We have observed our parents dressing up in a certain way, pick up a certain bag and go to “office” – a mysterious and slightly upsetting place since it held our parent’s hostage away from us – since our childhood.
We grow up and join the workforce, finally landing up in this mysterious place ourselves. Chances are, a little later on, when we have our own children, we will be grooming them in a certain way, so that they too can land up in office one day.
The whole time we were growing up, we saw office being depicted in our favourite tv shows and movies and giving us different versions of what office evolution would look like for us.
Mad Men showed us what a typical office looked like in the 1960’s –
F.R.I.E.N.D.S. and Seinfeld showed us the everyday life of everyday people in the 1990’s –
Suits and movies like The Devil Wears Prada gave us a more contemporary view, with men and women dressed sharply, clacking away on shiny marble floors –
She’s judging your office. And your outfit.
And The Office, of course, got up close and personal with all the trials and tribulations faced by office-goers every day, along with 30 Rock. And every now and then we would get a little throwback or a glimpse into the past, from movies like Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them and Harry Potter which modelled their office-based scenes on those prevalent in the early 90’s.
Offices and office spaces have always been a very prominent part of our lives. But it hasn’t always been this way. To understand the office evolution in a better way, we explored the ‘life and times’ of offices in the last 5 decades.
2010 – Present
Let’s work backwards and focus on the current office scenario, which sees the “norm” and all things expected of an office thrown up in the air. Because of the changing times, the workforce sees itself being wrenched in two different directions with the millennials and the younger generation demanding more than a pay package and standard work definition, while the older generation fighting to maintain and preserve the “sanctity” of office and it’s rules and regulations. Unfortunately, the latter is slowly losing the fight.
So the current office space can be defined in almost any which way. Regular offices are now becoming more and more flexible with bean bags, quirky designs and posters being splashed across on their walls (such as Paytm, Flipkart, Zomato offices and more). Some have either taken the option of using coworking spaces on a part-time basis like Microsoft, while others have completely shifted over to coworking office spaces (and cafes) provided by myHQ, Innov8, WeWork, and many more such players. Still, there are companies that prefer to have the standard office layout in effect.
But where did the “standard office layout” come from?
In this decade, the office culture had just started feeling the winds of change. This was when the office had started observing the changes and demands of Gen Y that was entering the work, who wanted more than just a standard pay package.
They wanted investment in them and their skills! They wanted opportunities to grow! Most importantly, they wanted bean bags for their aching backs!
Jokes aside, this was the generation that chose to enter and shake up the office culture by simply asking for what for more, thus, shaping up the office evolution in a way. No longer did the office culture consist of hiring people to simply be a cog in the wheel – the offices and the culture needed to match up to the people who were putting in their all at work.
This era also saw budget cuts happen and explore alternative solutions as opposed to sticking to the strict culture with respect to office infrastructure.
1990 – 2000
The 90s were famous for all kind of reasons. From the pop culture explosion that happened to the birth of a whole generation that is now nostalgic for the simpler times in the 90s, this decade was the perfectly sandwiched between the simple times and the yet-to-come complicated technology.
Offices in this period had begun to embrace technology bit by bit with the introduction of the internet, the biggest change and happened in 1990. Computers had now begun to be used extensively.
“Offices used to be made up of cubicles and c-suites. Employees were more often encouraged to work independently and stay on focus at all times, much different from the modern workplace where collaboration is encouraged.” according to the Undercover Recruiter.
1990 – 1980
The 80s saw pop culture explode with new, creative and groundbreaking art and this happened hand-in-hand with the office space ‘settlement’.
The era had already experienced the first rumble of change with the advent of Microsoft Windows software and Apple’s Macintosh computer. Digital cellular phones had also already made their foray into the scene at this point.
However, the inside of an office was still heavily dependant upon manual work. Every document had to be typed out on the annoying-but-still-somehow-endearing clunky typewriter (soft copies of documents were a distant dream at this point) and fax machines were all the rage from the mid to late 80’s.
Telex operator was a role that was very much in demand, whose main job was to operate the telex machine. Cyclostyling machines, now (hopefully!) extinct, were another integral part of offices. Typists were expected to know how to cut a stencil on a typewriter, a task which would only garner confused looks from the current generation.
Simply put – the 80’s were a weird time!
1980 – 1970
If you thought the 80s were weird (because this author surely did), then the 70s might just sound like a fairytale; fun but unrelatable. The 70s in comparison to the timeline mentioned above could be described as the calm before the storm, with respect to all the movers and shakers that brought the house down with their technological inventions.
The 70s were when offices were in their cubicle layout mode, having just shifted out of the cramped, side-by-side working style in the office. This was the era where the corner office was the coveted space as it usually offered bigger, broader windows and became a status symbol, meaning if you had it, you had ‘made it’. The office culture was also, unfortunately, rampant with sexism and was a time period that was struggling with respect to women being unable to either join office or progress at their workplace.
A Glimpse Into The Future
While the history and office evolution are intriguing and fascinating, the future is even more exciting as the possibilities are endless. We have the power to observe where we came from and imagine where all we can go. Indeed, already several articles are not only postulating on what all can we expect from the future, but they have also already come up with renders to show a possible future.
The most exciting part of the future is that the office culture and consequently space itself will almost be forced to change to keep up with the new workforce and its demand. With the evolution of our working style and the ratio between the increased population and scarce resources currently see-sawing, it’s no surprise that coworking has been accepted so readily world over.
Because coworking offers that rare solution of killing multiple birds with one stone (graphic, I know), it’s safe to say that we can expect coworking to play an important and significant role in the office evolution.
“In the future, we expect that the workplace will complement home life more and more. When an office caters for more aspects of your life, home can become a true sanctuary”, says Tanya Wood.
“People love to belong and feel part of something. The idea of professional networking is not new and by bringing this under one roof you create a very fertile ground for collaboration, which empowers workers. With coworking operators expanding globally, suddenly the membership becomes about much more than just a building or a physical space to go and work in, it’s also an international supportive community”, says Tanya Wood, the owner of SoHo Works.
“You may look back at the trend for small cloistered cubicles of the 90s with disdain but, believe it or not, workspace in 1995 was estimated to be 75 square feet bigger compared with that of 2014. This size-reduction can be due to a variety of reasons: more flexibility in schedule means less space needed at all times, hot-desking popularity, working from home, and the fact that many professionals work with laptops instead of monitors and equipment that take up too much space,” as an article from allwork.space notes.
This point is more prevalent today than ever, considering the increase in coworking spaces and virtual offices all over the globe. But ultimately, one can only hope for a future where the offices, office cultures and work being conducted in them can take us forward to a better world.