Back to (Old) School!

Offices are very different to how they used to be, that goes without saying, but why? The working world functioned just fine in the 1980s; things got done, business was booming, so why has the workplace changed so dramatically over the past 30 years?

Technology has played a huge role in the changing workplace. Computers were introduced to the masses in the 80s, and they began to be more widely used in offices for work processing and data entry. Not only have computers revolutionised business itself, they've revolutionised the office - we use them for everything. Booking meetings, project programs, design, writing, communication, marketing, research, sales; the list is endless. If you turned your computer off for a day at work, how much work could you do? We're betting not much. In addition, laptops can be used for flexible working, either at home or at a location other than your desk. Better quality computer monitors make for a more comfortable day at work, by following DSE guidelines and not putting so much physical strain on the user. 

The introduction of mobile phones followed computers quite quickly, but with a price tag upwards of £3000, they were an extremely luxurious item, and only used by a handful of CEOs. When released in 1985, the Motorola 8000X had about 30 minutes of call time before needing a charge, and could store 30 phone numbers. Not great. But, even as technology advanced beyond people's wildest dreams, the prices dropped dramatically because demand was so high. By 1990, the average price had halved to £1500, and when the iPhone was released in 2007, it cost a measly £269. Along with the introduction of phone contracts over a period of two years, it meant that nearly everyone could afford a mobile phone that was basically a pocket-sized computer. Depending on which phone you buy and what industry you're in, your business can be almost entirely run from a smartphone, sometimes eradicating the need for an office all together. 

The changing landscape of furniture design has had an undeniable effect on the workplace - in the 1980s, there were rumblings of the importance of ergonomics, but it wasn't really public knowledge until the 2000/10s. Now, chairs are one of the most important aspects of office design, and it's not just about whether they'll look nice next to your chosen desk, their ergonomic qualities have to be taken into account. Have they got good back support, adjustable height, armrests, and sitting positions? Do they take the strain off certain muscles, or have breathable fabric to prevent overheating? So many questions, but important ones! These things reduce the risk of back pain, neck pain, and health problems later in life. A comfortable employee is a happy employee, so even if the chairs turn out to be the most expensive part of the furniture quote - don't scrimp.

In terms of actual design trends & office layouts, there are some things that have carried through to the present day, but some that stayed firmly in the past where they belong. The 80s was a time for bold, bright blocks of colour and the inclusion of more glass partitions and meeting rooms for some employers, trends that have both lasted, to some extent, through the drab office hell-hole that we call the 90s, into the 21st century office, where colour and freedom reign supreme. The trend of clashing colours on every conceivable surface however, didn't have such a long-lasting impact. Bright reds, blues, purples and oranges were too heavy and distracting for most workplaces, and could have been a contributing factor that led to the depressing grey cubicles of the 1990s. Maybe people needed a break from constant stimulation by colour, and perhaps the thinking was that if you had no distractions whatsoever, you'd be more productive. 

The glass partitions and colourful graphics & decoration returned when collaboration and better ways of working started to emerge in the 00s. Employers began to realise that happy employees were productive employees, and the idea of making the office more like home took shape, with the introduction of breakout spaces, sofas instead of boardroom tables and chairs, and bench systems instead of desks. Flexible working boomed, and with more and more parents returning to work after having had children, for some, the 9 to 5 day became the 9 to 3. Working from home has become more commonplace, and far easier, with the invention of Skype for video-calling and Cloud services, which enables staff to access files from anywhere in the world, as long as they're connected to the internet. Lots of workplaces now invest heavily in physical benefits, like high-tech coffee machines, boiling water taps for easy tea-making, providing fresh fruit and other snacks, and sometimes going as far as offering breakfast and lunch at a reduced price, so employees don't end up spending half their wages on unhealthy processed & fast food. 

Cubicles were seen as a way of making sure staff weren't distracted by anything, which sounds great in theory, but the majority of people don't work best alone. They'll be far happier if they've got the option of conversation. Collaboration encourages unity, and a sense of belonging in the workplace. Colleagues have stronger relationships with one another, and feel more able to discuss problems or issues. The layout of offices now reflect this, with glass and open-plan spaces indicating an open-door policy and a willingness to communicate. 

Talk to us today about workplace strategy in YOUR workplace!