The evolution of the office has been ongoing since the 1700s and entrepreneurs are always on the hunt for the most productive working space to ensure maximum efficiency from all employees. Throughout this period of time, office culture has transformed from a formal environment with robotic employees to one of creativity where employees feel inspired to express themselves. However, could it be possible that in time, this too will expire as more and more people gravitate towards working in a homely habitat with elements of the office life?

One of the first adaptations was the introduction of an open plan office. Before the first open-plan office was integrated, employers were running a regimented approach towards office life where employees sat in straight lines continuously turning over-work, while managers were segregated in individual offices to have a clear headspace and no distractions. Nevertheless, this stunted all creativity, discussion, and development of colleague relationships. Furthermore, ending potential opportunities to discover new ideas and work as a team to improve the company. Businesses were, in a sense, stuck in a continuation of familiarity and “same old, same old”.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed the first open-plan office in 1906 to pave the way towards organic labour. Even though an open plan office has all the elements of the traditional office, the layout enables staff to change it up a bit and adapt their working space to what works best for them at that current moment in time, and then change it all around again when it no longer does. Along with the open-plan office came “hot-desking”, an approach to work where employees could choose to sit wherever they wished each morning. Whether by a window where they can take inspiration from the day-to-day lives happening outside, or beside a specific colleague that they need to discuss and work with that day. Incorporating this into business culture enabled employees to work to their best ability each day as the environment that surrounds them impacts this enormously.

Nonetheless, there was still the need for some privacy in these open plan offices when management and staff needed to hold meetings and minimise the level of stress employees were under from feeling like they were being watched 9 till 5. In 1965, the original and extreme concept of an office pod was designed, more commonly known as ‘The Action Office 2’ which introduced cubicle farms to reduce the number of employees suffering from anxiety and stress. The original ‘Action Office’ plan, an open plan office with areas dedicated to meetings and private working was made redundant as this would cost employers too much to carry out. Ending in the decision to sacrifice being able to keep an eye on employees all the time and choosing a layout that provided privacy but resembled cramming employees in like cattle.

Nowadays, the office pod is more of a luxury in the office to escape from the noise and questions. Employers are spoilt for choice between pop-up office pods for spontaneous meetings or permanent fixtures in the office for colleagues to hide away and work in. It would be fair to say that it is key in any business now to provide flexibility and options in the work place, guaranteeing staff have the correct space to work to their highest standard.

In the modern age, there was a surge of starting work from home businesses when women were expected to go back to their lives before the war, with no opportunities to work. Many post-war housewives started selling Tupperware from the comfort of their living room as this was the only environment they were permitted to work in.

Fast-forward fifty years and working from home is on the rise again, with more companies offering flexible remote working as an incentive in their job listings. Experts suggest that the productivity of staff who work from home is much higher than those who work in the office as there are fewer distractions. Another point in favour of remote working is that companies who offer this as an option face a reduced labour turnover as staff are happier within their job due to having a better work-life balance and less stress. Remote working also affects issues that are normally overlooked in a working environment; carbon footprint is reduced as there is no need to leave home and travel to another destination, and overheads for a business drop as they often do not have to pay for stationery supplies nor office equipment and furniture.

More recently, a new working concept has been introduced to the business sphere: virtual reality. More businesses are warming to this piece of technology as it is proven to bring to life risk-free and cost-effective situations that employers and employees face day-to-day in their working life.

  • Training – employers are able to set up realistic situations that employees may come up against in the job role. Staff are able to interact, and problem solve through the digital world. Traditionally, role play in the real world often wasted resources and other colleagues time that could be put towards more important areas of the business.
  • Meetings – if a manager has a meeting in another destination or country to their place of work that they are unable to attend due to time or expenses, virtual reality would enable them to be a part of the meeting without having to actually be physically present.
  • Design – by creating a product or a piece in virtual reality, a designer is able to review and analyse what parts of the design work and what parts do not fulfil their purpose. Furthermore, helping to save time and money where a prototype originally would have been created for a designer to review.
  • Retail – customers are able to test out products they had an interest in buying before spending their money, for example, test driving a new car. Therefore, this would make the buying experience more enjoyable for the customer but would also impact the economy positively by driving more footfall to the high street and physical stores.

Areas where the technology has been applied in business includes:

Throughout the years a number of different office styles have been tried and tested. Even though virtual reality is quickly becoming a mainstream product and way of life for many businesses, due to the need for flexibility in the workplace, it’s hard to believe that the only office to exist will be a virtual one. On top of the fact that virtual reality is extremely expensive, humans naturally crave physical contact and communication. While the “try before you buy” experience would be improved, some customers just want to enter a shop or office, learn everything about the product and service, and speak to the person physically in front of them.

Photo credit: eOffice

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