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The modern office has been heavily influenced by technology. Today, offices revolve around computers, but even before computers became commonplace, offices were still designed around the technology of their time. As we’re witnessing technology change the world, the modern office is sure to follow suit.

We want to share with you some interesting facts about the evolution of the modern office from Tim Hunkin’s The Secret Life of Machines. As you will see, the modern office has come a long way over the course of 150 years, and after reading this, you may start looking at your own office differently.


 

Doing Office Work in the 1800s

Today, over 50% of jobs are in offices, but 150 years ago the figure was only 1%, and the only office workers were “Dickensian clerks.” They had considerable status and freedom to organize their work, and kept financial ledgers, but there were no forms, memos reports, etc.”

Before there was electricity or even typewriters, office workers used quills and entered their data into ledgers. The 1800s was also a time before file cabinets and clerks would organize their papers by bundling them together with red cotton tape, which made finding a needed document a cumbersome task, thus the term “lost in red tape.”


 

The Railroad is Responsible for Printed Forms

The introduction of printed forms dates back to a series of fatal train crashes in the 1840s. The forms, introduced to formalize the movement of trains to increase safety, soon spread to every aspect of the railway companies’ business and then to other industries.”


Using Early Technology to Increase Efficiency
Today, we have business applications and mobile devices that we use to increase efficiency in the workplace. Before these modern advancements, people used cutting-edge technologies like light bulbs to improve workflow.

Some of the first ideas about organizing a large office came from a movement called Scientific Management. Techniques included taking time lapse photos of office workers with flashing light bulbs tied to their heads and hands to trace their movements. The idea was to eliminate “wasted motion” and find “the one best way” for every job.”


The Onset of Suspended Ceilings and Fluorescent Lights

Until the 1950s, offices had high ceilings and all the desks close to the windows for light and fresh air. This changed with the introduction of fluorescent lighting and air conditioning. The invention which really made this practical (and transformed the appearance of the office) was the suspended ceiling.”


Computer Networking Shapes Office Design

Information technology creates new demands on the office building. Extra ducts are needed to carry the wires connecting the computers together, new lighting is needed to eliminate the glare from the screens of the monitors and extra cooling is needed to remove their heat. An influential report in 1982 suggested it was cheaper to put up new offices than to modify old ones.”

A complex office building that revolves around an IT infrastructure is what the modern office looks like today. In fact, the average office has 15% of its floor space taken up by machinery, which is a far cry from the days of the Dickensian clerks.


What’s Next for Office Workers?
Concerning the complexity of the modern office, technology trends indicate that the office of the future will become more streamlined as companies find ways to integrate more of their business-essential technologies. This will continue to be achieved with advancements in mobile devices as clunky workstations will be replaced with sleek new gadgets that a worker can take anywhere with them, even outside of the office!

Thanks to remote networking technology, more companies are looking to grow their workforce through mobile means and have employees do work from around the globe and even from their homes via an Internet connection. The widespread use of mobile and wireless technology will lead to new office buildings built that will require less floor space to accommodate employees and equipment, and smaller terminals will be provided that a mobile employee can stop in and plug into, instead of being tied to their desk.

What do you think the office of the future will look like? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Quotes courtesy of The Secret Life of The Office.