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The Evolution of Office Spaces


1st Jan 2015 Home & Garden

The Evolution of Office Spaces

Since the dawn of the stripy tie and lost Parker pen, office layouts and designs have been in an ever-changing cycle. Openness versus privacy, opposites versus adjacent – the way we interact in the office environment is forever evolving, and so is the layout.

The Office Environment and You

Studies suggest that there’s a direct correlation between aesthetics and ergonomics in an office environment, so the way things look are just as important as how and why they’re made. The key to creating an amazing environment for your employees lies in making it both practical and pleasing to the eye. With the majority of the UK population sat at their desks on a nine-to-five basis, it’s important to get office furniture just right. Throughout the years, office furniture has changed dramatically, which also reflects the change in business cultures. But how does modern-day office furniture and layout compare to the years gone by?

The Office of the 1980s

Retro Office Cubicles

Track lights, over-padded couches and a cubed seating system; these were just some elements from a typical ‘80s office. With a struggling economy due to the double-dip recession office dynamics changed, and a new class of employee was born—too important for just a desk but too junior for the sought-after window seat—people were sort of confused about the level of their position. The aforementioned cubicle style that rose during this time period made office environments perfect for the independent worker.

Aspects of this ‘80s office can still be found today, although with the influx of creative jobs brought on by the digital era, we now see an eclectic mixture of modern “creative space”, crossed with the more archaic cubicle, which is still going strong. Other aspects of the era have also seen somewhat of a renaissance over recent years in the form of nostalgia for what is now considered “retro”. For example, furniture accents were often particularly shiny which can be seen in the high-end bespoke reproductions of today and of course everybody is used to the classic potted plant.

It’s definitely worthwhile noting though, that like cassettes, VHS and some of the original gaming systems, a lot of our current technology and style is based on the influences from the 1980s. Whereas it’s still possible to find the original filing cabinets, modern offices are still able to choose from a much more modern range nowadays, despite these original ‘80s influences still being present.


The Office of The 1990s

The Office of the 1990s

Everything got more modern in the ‘90s; a change of era meant a change of attitude towards the workplace which has had a huge influence on the office spaces of today. Co-workers wanted to become more integrated, and so a more sociable office layout was put into play. This change in attitude meant that the cubes of the 80s were replaced with ‘virtual officing’. The idea behind a virtual office is that employees had no allocated desks—staff would come into work on a morning, grab a laptop or a pad of paper and scramble to find a seat.

This new trend was thanks to what was perhaps the biggest change offices saw in the ‘90s which was a rise in the numbers of computers being used due to technological advances. The increase did not pick up too much steam until the 2000s though, with the majority of work still being paper-based as opposed to digitally. With the more social surroundings coming into their own and people working at more spacious stations, people would often have to move about from their computer to their paperwork. Though this sounds minor, health and safety issues in terms of people twisting led to more ergonomic chairs being produced en masse for use in the office.

One of the new technologies that rose with the advent of the internet was telecommuting, although the technology available in the ‘90s limited this significantly. On the whole, technological advances have only truly made the dream of working at home a reality for the masses in more recent times. Due to the limitations of the day, people found that they stayed in the same place, usually huddled around their work-mates, even though it was a huge shift in terms of the work environment.


The Office of the 2000s-2010s

Offices in the 2000s, Google Offices

Industrial lighting, exposed pipes and huge open plan spaces, that basically sums up the noughties working environment. Influenced heavily by the now well-known offices of Google, the digital era has ushered in a new style of office that sees homely designs (even including beds, occasionally) mixed with excursions into sheer grandeur in order to have workers feeling comfortable enough in the workplace so that they can ‘be themselves’, thus allowing their creative juices to flow.

The vast technological advances of the previous two decades have finally allowed for virtual-officing and hot-desking to come into their own, all in all allowing for a much friendlier office environment. The current office layout trend is all about networking. These days office furniture is all connected, and desk shapes separate work areas in lieu of huge dividers. With a rise in the flat pack era and trend, this has also been seen in the average worker’s day to day life and it allows furniture to be moved around more easily.

Modern office furniture is much more curvaceous than in previous decades and due to this and less conventional colour schemes, many companies now order their furniture with specific bespoke requirements in order to have furniture that fits their working ethics. White walls and pops of colour create a harmonious office that evokes creativity, and random break-out areas mean staff can relax during the working day. This kind of layout works much better for staff morale, and almost forces work colleagues to (sometimes reluctantly) socialise. The use of raw materials and minimalism means there’s a lot less clutter which can also theoretically increase productivity. With technology evolving at an ever increasing rate, it’s difficult to see how the offices of the future will change.


The Office of the Future

Retro Office Spaces

How will telecommunicating, mobile technology and the internet affect how interconnected our offices will become? With instant access to information and interconnected systems the rate of change, stylistic choices and management styles are likely to expand the trends over the past 40 years. Even more open offices than we’re currently used too, possibly with shared communal areas to allow this interconnectivity to thrive could be the key. Technologies such as virtual reality and holograms are slowly becoming more mainstream and could create a huge shift in how offices are designed in the coming decades. How do you think offices will evolve in the next 10 years?