Evolution of the office
Office Inspiration

Evolution of the office

Office workers spend an average of five hours and 41 minutes a day sat at their desks, but looking around at the open-plan space complete with all its mod-cons and advanced technology, is a far cry from what the work space of yesteryear looked like.

Office life is an ever-changing environment, with its development heavily reliant on keeping up with social trends and the technology available. But how we work today is vastly different to the designs, styles and working practices of decades gone by. Here we’ve taken a look at just how much the office has changed since the 1960s.


In the 1960s, offices were minimalist in appearance, with the main area occupied by several desks where the more lowly members of staff sat. While office attire and attitudes would see gradual differences, desks remained more or less the same throughout the next decade or so, with various upgrades on the Formica trend popular in the 1970s. However, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, workspace became less cluttered, as advances in technology meant computers took on more responsibility. Fast forward to the present, and office desks are now available in all shapes and forms, double up as storage units and can be adjusted in height to accommodate the recent standing desk trend.


In offices of the 1960s right through to the 1980s, minimalist furniture was there to perform its function and that was all. From the 1990s, organisations began to get more adventurous with their furniture, and while still practical, it also served the purpose of providing an attractive aesthetic to the once-mundane appearance of the office. Nowadays, brightly coloured chairs and quirky futuristic-looking storage units are on trend when it comes to office furniture.


Office chairs now are now considerate to posture, reducing back pain and promoting comfort of users, but this wasn’t always the case. In the 1960s, the swivelling chair with casters was thought to allow more productivity from office workers but took into account little more in their design, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that ergonomics became hugely important in the design of the office chair. Today, chairs have adjustable armrests, back support and heights to prevent the risk of repetitive strain injury resulting from sitting for long periods[1].


In the 1960s office, when it came to storage and other office equipment, creativity and design was minimal and limited to only the essential elements. Storage was provided by the dark-coloured metal tall-standing filing cabinets, although colours and textures were beginning to make an appearance towards the 1970s. By the 1980s and into the 1990s, desk surfaces had become more personalised with the inclusion of brightly coloured file storage boxes. Nowadays, while there’s still use for storage units and boxes for paperwork and books, office spaces enjoy clutter-free desks as most paperwork can be saved electronically.


The typewriter was a crucial part of everyday office life from the 1950s onwards, but by the 1960s, they were electronic. Telephones had rotary dials, and computers, still in the infancy of their invention, were huge machines that men operated and fed cards into. By the end of the 1970s, the calculator was a commonplace in the office, phones had advanced to include buttons, typewriters allowed for different fonts, while computers evolved to become smaller. Towards the end of the 1980s, the mobile phone had been successfully launched and PCs dominated offices, and in the 1990s, with mobile phones and the internet, the way was paved for laptops that allow for mobile working, and the flat-screen desktop PCs of today.

The opportunities are endless for the advancement of office space. Some offices look as though they could be an extension of your own home – Google even supplies its staff with sleeping pods – and many designs nowadays are geared around encouraging the most productivity from staff. But as technology continues to advance, give it 10 or 20 years, and the office will look very different to what we’ve comfortably adapted to over the last couple of decades.


  1. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/workplacehealth/Pages/rsi.aspx