Hamsters in the office space wheel: The revolving and likely evolving office wheel

Offices have been around a long time. For purposes of the hamster analogy, we’ve gone back to the 1950’s when the office environment took hold. The rigid office style focused on efficiency, with endless rows of desks as managers looked on from the perimeter for maximum staff productivity. Hard work was rewarded, and socialization rejected. Business attire was formal yet smoking and drinking behind office doors was normal.


The 1960’s saw an early adoption of socially dynamic layouts that encouraged a humanistic approach to office interaction. Semi-private workspace with an open element for chatter brought us the three-sided modular furniture, flexible to any task. Increased freedom of movement generated impromptu team meetings. In this evolving work culture, the boozy, smoke-filled office environment led to staff socializing long after hours. Upcoming decades proved the cubicle environment overran its functionality, leaving staff to feel trapped. But it was the addition of technology that forced businesses to take a more holistic, human-centric approach to the office.


The 1970’s were experimental in personal values and fashion trends, exploding with color and creativity. We saw the early signs of gender, social, and racial equality. A more relaxed working environment brought forward ergonomic designs with greater freedom of space. Casual unscheduled breaks, extended lunches and water cooler conversation was on the rise. Technology was replacing mundane and redundant activity.


The 1980’s exposed the need for middle management as decision making was moving toward decentralization. The C-suite was out of office more, with corner offices empty more than they were occupied. Architectural design turned more aesthetic, using modern lines, clean edges, increased glass, colorful art and concrete. Business attire leaned towards casual, although staff felt longer working hours showed signs of dedication for advancement.


The 1990’s faced head on the needs for cultural diversity and equality. Internet connectivity enhanced methods of communication, further extending the ability to work virtually. Headquarters became a combination of utilitarian and functional design, yet incorporated open space to promote collaboration and spontaneous discussions. Casual Friday was introduced, often leading to off-site socialization across multiple departments.


The 2000’s evolved in the way people worked. Advanced portable technologies redefined interaction between in office and virtual. High-speed connectivity and improved bandwidth added to the growing entrepreneurial spirit so teams could co-work in a more functional environment. The office dress code was casual and comfortable. The newest generation to join the workforce overworked, believing success was molded by working longer hours and weekends.


The 2010’s felt the disruption to traditional methods of work. Employees began to value freedom over physical possession. Work culture morphed into one of collaboration and community. Teams worked towards a common goal reflecting the brands’ sustainability and a sense of community initiatives. Co-working provided shared space environments for networking, pushing the boundaries of design. Open plans were spacious and unassigned, design elements featured natural light and warmer space, with some choosing funky over functional. Collaboration happened naturally as staff and management sat together. Virtual work became more commonplace as companies adopted new ways of working. Mobility, hot-desking and hoteling was normal.


Flash forward to the 2020’s. What began as an advanced version of the 2010s changed rapidly. The Pandemic brought creative design to a halt, replacing it with taped arrows, stanchions and hand sanitizer stations. Staff left their desks behind and took refuge at their dining room tables. While this decade continues to be re-written, the office will become a destination rather than just a place of work.