Over the past century, office design has changed drastically, with workplaces evolving from large open-plan offices, to informal and collaborative spaces. The last year has seen the most drastic changes in the shortest space of time with the increase in single space home office setups across the world.

A look through time at the spaces we choose to spend a large chunk of our day in reveals an interesting trend towards colour, comfort, space and cohesion. Until 2020 of course!

“Conceived in an era of command and control, the traditional fixed and stratified office is evolving to embrace more fluid and intuitive ways of working”

The 1920s

American engineer Frederick Taylor is credited with being one of the first people to design a modern office. His primary focus was efficiency, and his office spaces were designed to maximise productivity.

In the 1920s, many American and modern European companies, including insurance agents, mail-order firms and government agencies, adopted Taylor’s office design principles.

In these offices the majority of employees worked together in an open-plan space, each sitting at their own forward-facing desk, while bosses looked on from their own private offices.

The 1930s and 1940s

Following the Wall Street Crash in 1929, major corporations in America focused on getting work done as quickly and cheaply as possible. Although there was no major departure from Taylorist principles in office design during the 1930s, offices were streamlined and companies worked to create more modern and aesthetically-pleasing spaces for the benefit of their employees.

During this period, air-conditioning and fluorescent lighting were introduced, which allowed for more flexibility in office design, as workers no longer needed to be positioned near windows for natural light and ventilation.

The 1950s

Due to the widespread use of fluorescent lighting and air-conditioning, the 1950s saw the corporate office become completely separate from the outside world. Office spaces generally became wider and more open-plan, with employees placed virtually anywhere within the space.

In this period, the Quickborner Team in Hamburg developed the concept of “Bürolandschaft”, which literally translates as “office landscape”. It was a break from the rigidity of Taylorism, and focused more on organising office spaces to meet the needs of employees.

A key feature of the “Bürolandschaft” concept was the creation of different work areas, using plants and partitions to create sub-divisions.

“Eberhard and Wolfgang Schnelle’s Quickborner team in the 1950s pioneered the concept of Bürolandschaft as a reaction against Taylorism which recognised that office work was diverse and that people could sit together in non-hierarchical workspace.”

The 1960s

American engineer Frederick Taylor is credited with being one of the first people to design a modern office. His primary focus was efficiency, and his office spaces were designed to maximise productivity.

In the 1920s, many American and modern European companies, including insurance agents, mail-order firms and government agencies, adopted Taylor’s office design principles.

In these offices the majority of employees worked together in an open-plan space, each sitting at their own forward-facing desk, while bosses looked on from their own private offices.

The 1970s

Following the European economic crisis of 1973, many businesses rejected the Bürolandschaft model as having large areas of air-conditioned and artificially-lit space was expensive, and many employees disliked working in an open-plan environment.

During this time, work councils also became increasingly influential in office design. Some countries implemented regulations that prescribed a minimum amount of space per employee. They insisted on access to daylight, open windows and views for all office workers. The response to this was a pattern of narrow buildings, with offices arranged along a corridor.

“The Schnelle brothers shaped much of the modern office (AR February 1964), but their concepts developed into the 1970s as Tayloresque open office factories when Robert Propst and others evolved the office ‘cubicle’ and with it the cube farms and ‘systems furniture’ that were to dominate workplaces for the next few decades.”

The 1980s

Although many corporations had adopted open plan work spaces over previous decades, many looked to gain back a degree of privacy in the eighties.

The cubicle made a big comeback. Many businesses saw it as a cheap and flexible way to create division and privacy, while still keeping the offices somewhat open.

“But it is technology that is really enabling change. For 120 years after industrialisation the office housed sedentary, tethered technology that anchored people to desks.”

The 1990s

The technological advancements of the nineties had a massive impact on office design. The introduction of the internet, laptops and mobile phones allowed employees to work away from their desks.

With the recession of the early 1990s, many businesses also began to realise that teleworking and outsourcing could significantly reduce their operating costs.

In the late 1990s, many internet companies embraced smaller, more colourful and more casual offices, where the boundaries between private and public space, as well as between work and play, were blurred.

The 2000s

In the 2000s, “hot-desking” – where employees have no designated desk within the office – started gaining popularity. However, sharing spaces and furniture had its drawbacks, and employees often struggled to feel at home.

Following in the footsteps of companies such as Google, Yahoo! and Tesla, many employers saw the merits of creating a fun and appealing space for their workers. The result was office spaces that featured pinball machines, slides, basketball hoops and other recreational activities.

The 2010s

The most modern workplaces of the 2010s are “high concept”, aesthetically pleasing spaces, designed to encourage a sense of community and inspire collaboration. One of the most popular trends is the introduction of nature into workspaces, for example with more natural lighting, green walls and plants.

Other popular trends are the inclusion of flexible work areas with multi-purpose furniture and casual break areas where employees are encouraged to relax and share ideas.

The 2020s

The change that happened in 2020 is one that no one was able to predict. A full shift from larger and larger workspaces, collaborative and cohesive spaces, to a small space within each individual home around the world.

Each individual has been urged to carve out their own little spot wherever they are able, to create a safe and solitary place of work.

“The working day no longer starts with a bell or the stamp of a time card for most office workers, but the blurring of the boundaries and the spheres, driven by technology and globalisation, have changed the nature of where, when and how work will take place now and in the future.”

We look forward to following the ever changing trends within the office space, perhaps floating pods will be coming soon?

In the meantime make sure your employees are getting back to work safely where they can using our range of Offix Screen Solutions.

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