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How office design has changed throughout the years

From cubicles to connectivity, office design has changed drastically over the years. Here, we look at the best and worst of office design over the last half a century and make our predictions for the 2020s and beyond.

1970s

In the 1960s offices were largely open plan – but in the 1970s cubicles began to rise in prominence. Cubicles were originally designed to enable employees to create a personalised workspace, but their mass rollout actually had the opposite effect, with rows of identical beige cubicles becoming commonplace. It wasn’t all bad though. We have the 1970s to thank for ergonomic design. The Ergon Chair was designed in 1976 and was the first to have adjustable height and back functionality.

Ergonomic chair

1980s

In the 1980s cubicles had well and truly taken over and were found in most office buildings. Technology was rapidly advancing, and more and more workers now had a computer. Unfortunately, computers of the 80s were absolutely huge so desks became more heavy duty during this time to cope with the weight and size! Office design of the 80s was largely defined by the word ‘functionality’. However, towards the end of the decade, it did start to become a bit more experimental. Lots of glass, concrete and clean lines were introduced during this time.

Glass building

1990s

If the 1980s marked the start of a technology revolution, the 90s were where this came into full force. The world wide web became publicly available in 1991 cutting down on the amount of paper needed in offices. This led to more open-plan office design as there was less need for cupboards and other cumbersome storage. Culturally, there was a big shift during this decade. More women made up the workforce than ever before and the gender pay gap started to lessen. There was also a lean towards more casual work attire and casual Fridays were popular.

2000s

In the 2000s technology was very much a part of everyday life. High-speed connectivity and smart phones were in the mass market. This redefined how we interact with one other – which in turn had a big effect on office design. Collaborative areas took the place of solitary cubicles, and creativity and teamworking were encouraged more than ever before. As technology got smaller, so too did workstations and desks became much more compact. This decade also saw the rise in popularity of co-working spaces.

Old mobile phones

2010s

In the 2010s, many companies really started to understand the impact that the design of an office could have on productivity, wellbeing and creativity at work. As such, the boundaries of office design were really pushed during this decade. Apple Park, for example, was completed in 2017. Surrounded by grass and trees, the ring-shaped structure was built to foster creativity and propel Apple into the future. During the 2010s, remote working also became more popular and large swathes of the workforce began working on a laptop to support homeworking.

Apple's headquarters

The present day – and beyond

2020 was quite the start to the decade! The COVID-19 pandemic made homeworking much more prevalent and created a shift towards hybrid working. This style of working is expected to become commonplace over the next 12-18 months. Looking further ahead, we predict a much greater focus on employee wellbeing. Biophilic design is already a key part of many offices but we expect this to go a step further with companies setting up their own growing spaces and wellbeing areas.

Then there’s technology. As wearable tech becomes more affordable, it’s highly likely laptops will become a thing of the past. Perhaps we’ll be able to project from small devices on our person. The climate change crisis means that it is extremely likely that we will see sustainability become increasingly important in office design. Expect to see sustainable building materials and energy-efficient technologies in the majority of offices.

If you want your business to be at the forefront of office design we’d love to help you on this journey.

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