As the way we work has evolved immensely over the last 50 years, so have the spaces we work in. From tightly packed rows and cubicles of typists, to open space that takes advantage of wireless connectivity, giving employees the freedom to work as they please.

Today, the design of office fit outs have become a much more ‘cultured’ process that places an increasing focus on creating working environments that are able to be shaped around the employee, rather than the employee having to shape how they work to fit in with the limitations offered by the working environment.

As time and technology have shaped the way our workplaces have been designed over the years, here we’re going to look at the history of office design and ask, what’s next?

The first ‘modern’ office fit outs

Whilst the idea of an office has been around in some form for thousands of years, the modern interpretation of what we would identify as ‘the office’ came about in the early part of the 20th century. The ‘Taylorist office’ was an office design method created by Frederick Taylor, an engineer from the United States, who recognised that the efficiency levels of a factory could also be reflected within the design of an office.

Instead of workers having to do many jobs, they would be organised and split in a way that saw singular jobs allocated to specific workers in a production line-type environment. Taylor’s design compromised of open space, with private offices located within the boundaries; helping to pack in as many workers as possible and give bosses vantage points to observe them from.

The first ‘commercially-viable’ Taylorist office was created for a mail order soap company in 1904; designer Frank Lloyd Wright developed Taylor’s ideas to create a purpose-built office that would contain 1,800 workers who would process around 5,000 orders every day from an open space that was located at the centre of the building. The idea of creating an office fit out that evoked the workings of the factory production line was perfect for such a business.

The glass and steel offices of the 1950's

The end of the Second World War saw a vast amount of building clearances around the UK; with new, modern structures for a new, modern era being erected. For businesses, this meant the end of the traditional brick-and-mortar set-ups and in their stead, steel and glass was combined to create purpose-built buildings that would be instantly identifiable as 'an office'.

With an increasing availability of fluorescent lighting and air conditioning systems, this meant that employees being near a window was no longer a necessity; suspended ceilings would be able to provide the controlled temperature and light levels as they worked in their production lines.

Meanwhile, in West Germany, a new office layout known as Bürolandschaft (Office landscape), was created by a team of management consultants. Their design saw furniture scattered around an open plan room that was structurally undivided; breaking the 'traditional production line' for a more human-friendly approach.

Office landscape was created from studies on organisational theory that valued human relations and how they affected the workplace. The design recognised that there was a diverse range of workers in the office, all with different skills and abilities and therefore, it did not help to have everyone working in the same conditions. This was the first step on the path to the flexible workspace.

The effects of the cubicle office fit out

The office landscape model was widely rejected by the mid-1970’s, due in no small part to the 1973 recession. Large offices that contained air conditioning and were artificially lit were expensive and vast open plan spaces had become to be disliked by business who looked at other ways in which they could save on potentially crippling costs.

During the 1980’s, it was perhaps the need to find economical office design solutions that led to many firms to adopt the ‘cubicle farm’ set-up. First rolled out in the 1960’s, this method would see workers completely divided from each other in order to cut down on distraction, helping them to concentrate on their work. Sadly, this made the office a dull, boring and (literally) a grey place, as the social aspect of work was replaced by one that would leave the worker isolated and without any inspiration.

Whilst technology started to have an influence over how an office functioned at this point, computers of the era were very much stationary and so the isolated environment provided by the cubical was perfect for them. Sadly, it wasn’t perfect for the employee though...

Back to the future (or past?)

It took almost two decades for the cubicle office to become a relic of the past, as businesses realised that allowing their employees to work in a holistic, social manner would have a great impact on their mood and happiness at work – and as a result, their productivity. For this, it looked to the past for some of the lessons taught by Bürolandschaft, namely the effect that zoning different areas and using plants, instead of cardboard, to divide people was more beneficial to their mental state.

By the dawn of the 21st Century, the internet had transformed the way in which offices worked anyway; no longer did people have to type out reports on their computer, print it and file it away. Their work could simply be sent by e-mail; a much quicker and easier process that saved much time and led to an increase in productivity.

So down came the barriers and open plan offices were back in vogue again. People could move freely around the office, interact with others in an informal environment that through teamwork, learning and togetherness, encouraged a constant culture of improvement; not just in their abilities to do their work but also as people too.

The office fit outs of today are more than just one design, they comprise many and are planned around how the employees work, rather than how the building dictates they should work. More concentration is placed on the wellbeing of employees; comfortable breakout spaces, kitchens and even games rooms are all elements of the contemporary office. All of these are designed to allow workers to refocus the mind and/or decompress during a particularly stressful day.

Whilst the informal environment offered by a collaborative workspace is generally beneficial, there is no denying that sometimes, the quiet of the cubical environment is needed at times too, for people to plough through their work.

This is where the flexibility of modern office design comes in; people should now be able to choose how they work; whether they need to move around, chat, relax or work in solitary to minimise distractions. By encouraging this holistic way of working, it’s more likely that an employee will feel empowered and comfortable in how they go about their job, which will always play into the quality of work they produce for the business.

What’s next for office fit outs?

With the constant progression of flexible technology, it’s likely that the influence of remote working will continue to grow. This means that more offices are likely to adopt a flexible design strategy that will give their employees the freedom to choose not just how they work but where they work too.

The added benefit of bestowing a flexible design within office interiors is its nature; any future trends can easily be incorporated. With a fixed design, a complete overhaul will need to be required in order to allow for the latest innovations; driving up costs every time a change needs to be made.

If you’re thinking about improving your own office interiors, why not get in touch with the experienced team here at Oaktree Interiors to learn more?

Improve your office design with Oaktree Interiors

With over 30 years of experience in the office design industry, we have collected a wide range of skills and knowledge that allows us to offer a complete bespoke service for every client we serve. No matter the type or size of your organisation, we can guarantee the deliverance of high-quality office fit outs that will meet every requirement you have.

If you would further information about how we are able to design your ideal office interiors for the future, please feel free to get in touch with us directly today. You can call us on 0345 21 86955 or send us an e-mail at hello@oaktreeoffice.com

Leave a Comment
Are you our next client? Get in touch!
Simply fill out the form below, or call us on 0345 21 86955

* Required Fields