History of the Office: Coworking our way Back to the Future


Writer and satirist, Lucy Kellaway takes a look into what the office was and how history has shaped modern office design. But have these changes improved the way we work?  The open plans of the 60’s “B.C.” (before cubicles or before coworking) look alot like corporate coworking, but how things have changed.

In this piece, Kellaway interviews several architects and design experts about the history of office space. In the early 1900’s, businesses designed their offices without walls. But this wasn’t to create conversation and collaboration the way it does today. These open floor plans were all about control as they allowed managers to see all of their employees at once.

Then in the 1960s two things happened that shifted office design. The Germans brought the executives and managers out into the open to work with everyone else. Additionally, workers were able to chat with any other employee, regardless of rank. What a novel idea!

In the ‘60s Herman Miller also emerged and became one of the most influential mid-century modern designers. Miller and his team conducted hours of research to build the perfect desk. The Action Office was a result of the research and included many interchangeable parts that allowed workers to customize their space. The divider was part of this collection and it changed the way American’s work for several decades as it evolved into the dreaded c-word: cubicles.

Now it’s back to an open floor plan with rows of desks, some shared and some not. The private offices have glass walls, so while it creates an open, more friendly appeal, many times doesn’t lend itself to a lot of privacy. Many times, if people want a private conversation, they go to the stairway or deli. Many designers and coworking facilities are realizing this, so they are outfitting offices with cafés, outdoor workspaces and other areas where employees can “escape” to a place where they can huddle and enjoy a private conversation, without leaving the campus.

For more information, you can listen to the full interview here.