The Evolution of Office Design

The modern office is a bright, spacious and engaging place to be. This wasn't always the case. Active takes a look back at what's influenced Office Design over time.


Over the last century you can see a vast difference in the way the office is designed and built. In the early 1900's through to the 50's offices were open plan with rows or clusters of desks; certainly this was a vibrant, albeit a noisy place to work. Enter the classic “Office Cubicle" introduced in 1965. This gave employees privacy and blocked out distractions so they could work more effectively. However, this also meant that people spent the majority of their time working alone, within a very bleak, uninspiring, enclosed space.


More recently the open plan office has resurfaced as businesses realise the potential to get the best out of their people by encouraging them to work collaboratively. This way colleagues can bounce ideas off one another and this has seen an increase in productivity.


The office today, or workplace as it has been coined, hosts a range of different work spaces including collaborative spaces, quiet zones, meeting rooms, large socialising spaces with a variety of in-house facilities. The modern office is bright, colourful and inspiring.


So what were the key influencers?

Many factors have shaped the way office design has changed throughout the years including; the development of various technologies, studies into employee wellbeing, generational influences and employees needs and expectations.


Employees' needs are changing

People often spend more time at the office than at home, meaning that offices need to serve as more than just a work space. Workers expect certain amenities. For example, large well-equipped kitchens to cater for breakfast lunch and sometimes even dinner, comfy social areas and other in-house facilities like gyms and showers. One of Active's clients even has a Londis shop, a hair salon, cashpoint machines and a cycle shop on site.


Generational Influences

Studies into generational influences suggest the workplace is made up of 4 different generations:


Traditionalists: Employees born between 1922 and 1945, characterised by their stable and loyal nature, however being resistant to change.

The baby boomers: Employees born between 1945 and 1964, characterised as being optimistic team players, however being technologically challenged and favouring their own private space.

Generation X: Employees born between 1965 and 1978, Characterised as being independent and entrepreneurial, as well as being adaptable and comfortable with the latest technology.

Generation Y: Employees born between 1979 and 2000, characterised as being confident and having a first for knowledge. Used to working in informal work spaces.


With many generations of people working together it is a real challenge to try and cater for everyone's needs. Traditionalists, who are unaccepting of change, favour the private office cubicle, whereas at the other end of the spectrum you have generation Y who have come from learning environments suited to various types of learning styles. Modern office design has had to include a variety of different environments.


Technology's influence

Add to this the technology advancements that have shaped and will continue to shape the way in which we work. For example a few decades ago, the PC was very much stationary along with the telephone which meant workers were limited to staying at their desks all day. Today, our technology is mobile meaning workers can come and go, making work life much more flexible. The concept of “Hot-desking" has recently been introduced meaning multiple employees can use the same desk space at different times. This means fewer desks are needed, often saving the company significant real estate expenses. Businesses rarely upsize these days it is all about SMART size.


The recognition of Ergonomics

Ergonomics has also played a huge part in the way furniture is designed and used in today's workplace. Ergonomics is the science of equipment design created to maximise productivity and employee wellbeing. For example, research has found that sitting for long periods of time whilst at work can have damaging effects to your health, including increasing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Many designers have taken notice of this and produced furniture such as the “sit-stand" desk, encouraging workers to get up on their feet rather than remaining seated.


To conclude…

We are living and working in a fast-paced changing environment. The challenge for designers today is to create engaging, collaborative work spaces that not only look great and are functional, they must also be flexible enough to adapt. Perhaps it is time to adapt your work space.


Thanks for reading,

The Active team.


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