Evolution of the office

Posted by Sara Gammon on 14/04/2016

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With the ascent of technology in the workplace, how has furniture evolved to support flexible working

It may seem a modern concept, but ‘the office’ has a long history. From Roman Empire tax collectors to e-commerce business owners, anyone who ever needed to do admin has needed office space.

But our immersion in digital technology is driving a whole new era in the workplace, where people rather than desks are the focus.

Modern office design | Interaction Insight

Genesis of the modern office: the desk becomes King

The origins of the modern open plan office can be traced back to the Larkin Administration Building in New York, which opened in 1906. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the interior was based on the concept of an open-plan factory with few walls and row after row of desks. Designed to be super-efficient, it was also impersonal and hierarchical. This style of the open plan office continued through to the 1940s.

Clerical workers continued to sit at their typewriters in long lines until the 1960s when ‘Burolandschaft’ – office landscaping – caught on. This was an office design movement originating in Germany that placed workers of different ranks together in more organic patterns, based on flows of communication. Offices became more ‘humane’ with added comforts like carpets and pot plants. However individual desks and chairs still remained the only source of furniture.

Not much changed until the 1980s, when the use of the cubicles came into fashion as a way of trying to give privacy to individual workers. The downside was that they dampened communication between colleagues too effectively.

Fast forward through 1990s and into the 2000s. An increasing focus on worker wellbeing saw the rise of the ‘office hotel’ with a wider range of spaces to work in and a focus on ‘ergonomic’ furniture design. Hot-desking caught on as a way to save valuable space.

2016: ascent of the  flexible workplace, the worker reigns supreme

The rapid and continuous advance of technology and new furniture designs, combined with an ever growing awareness of the benefits of agile working (giving workers the flexibility to choose where they want to work) brings us to today and the rise of the flexible, barrier-free office.

Modern office design | Interaction Insight

With workers enjoying a greater degree of flexibility about how and where to carry out individual work, the function of the office and office furniture is increasingly about facilitating collaborative work. 

“As the modern workplace evolves, there is a declining demand for the ‘one size fits all’ approach. Instead, workplaces require spaces that are flexible and collaborative; facilities that are efficient and streamlined, combined with an atmosphere that can be both formal and informal.”

Adrian Campbell, The Senator Group


The future of the office: a tool for growth

More and more employers are using workspace as a tool to support their business. By creating a positive and dynamic work environment businesses can attract and retain talented people – and continue to grow.

So what makes a workplace ‘wow’? And how does this involve the right choice furniture?

A great workplace accommodates private and collective work, and provides for different personality types, from introverts who need privacy on demand to extraverts who want to work closely with others.   

Modern office design | Interaction Insight

As Tom Goard of office furniture maker Orangebox puts it, the workplace and modern furniture need to "become a more fluid, engaging, humane and diverse environment where the wellbeing of employees is foremost". Goard also believes there is a growing role for a ‘third space’ – casual space in which to breakout and collaborate. Orangebox has launched an ‘Away From the Desk’ range (see image) which aims to provide just this type of flexible, social space.

The Senator Group is also looking to provide the office market with furniture that fits a diverse workspace. Its new Chemistry range aims to respond to individuals’ changing needs throughout the day, for example, with a height adjustable, ergonomically designed workstation solution that allows the user the option of varying their posture (including standing) whilst working.

Long synonymous with boxy buildings crammed with desks, the notion of ‘the office’ is returning to the original meaning of the word. ‘Office’ comes from the Latin officium, which in turn means ‘to ‘perform a task’.

With advanced technology and the introduction of ergonomic furniture, the workplace is finally evolving. The present day office is to aid performance and agile working rather than testing how long any one person can sit in one space, in one position for the length of one working day. 

Interested in more modern furniture ideas? View the slide show below - featuring Ocee's Den Range and Spacestor's Railway Carriage.

Ⓒ Ocee   Ⓒ Spacestor   Ⓒ The Senator Group

WATCH THE VIDEO See for yourself the evolution of the office.