I enjoy history and learning the origins of how cultural standards began and evolved.
The evolution of the office is a very interesting tale. The fact is the office developed out of necessity. The purpose being there needed to exist a place for record keeping.
The office has gone through many changes and has framed how business is conducted present today. Over time, the office has provided society with structure.
What transpired from the foundation of the office?
- The middle class was born and still remains
- It transformed women and their families
- Raised the standard of education
- A focal point for many technological advances
The 13th Century
The word ‘office’ stems from the Latin word officium, first appearing in Ancient texts in the 13th Century. The medieval chancery (known as the writing office) were often part of a palace complex or a temple. The name stuck, as scrolls were stored for record keeping, these space became recognized as true offices. Management functions were added later to include treaties and rulings.
The first all-purpose, fully functional, office space constructed was by the East India Company in 1726. A three storey U-shaped brick building built in Great Britain. In the 1770’s many scattered offices for the Royal Navy gathered into Somerset House, becoming the first known built for office work.
Trade in the early centuries was mostly cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, tea and opium. Ships sailed up to the back of the building dock to unload cargo. Horse drawn, flatbed trailers transported the cargo into large warehouses at the back of the building.
In 1906, Sears Roebuck and Company opened their mail order and headquarters operation into a 3,000,000-square-foot building in Chicago. At the time, it was the largest building in the world. Thousands of employees poured into work every day to handle process orders, mailing, cataloguing, accounting, file documentation. Specialize office spaces created out of necessity to handle the increasing volume of numerous activities. All of it done, manually!
In 1915 Equitable Life Insurance Company felt managers needed to play an active role in directing the work of subordinates. As a result, “Modern Efficiency Desk” design allowed managers an easy view of the workers. A perch was constructed to oversee the work of the subordinates to make sure they were doing their jobs.
Women in the office
Not until the late 19th century did women begin working in offices. It was then considered an innovation and introduced as an experiment to cope with growing workload. As it turned out, women in the office became recognized as a huge advantage. Until the first world war, “lady clerks” had separate entrances, staircases and dining rooms. To ensure their morals were not messed with, single women often worked behind screens and, in some cases, in cages.
Study of time and motion methods were developed to lower costs and increase productivity. Time study purpose was to establish standard times allowance. Motion study evolved into a technique to improve work methods. When the two methods combined, management discovered a new business model as an efficiency technique; the assembly line was born.
The combination of the two methods developed clocking in and measuring how long a worker would take to complete a task. The management even used stopwatches to measure the production of each employee.
The early 1960’s brought us the first modern ‘workstation’ invention called ‘Action Office 1’ program. This revolutionary of its time was for two purposes. One was for employee’s physical and psychological needs and the other was to streamline workflow.
The Action Office 1 enclosed teams of managers and employees to share the same workspace. The problem arise it took up a lot of space and not all office buildings could accommodate this type of layout.
From this came Action Office 2. Smaller, compact workstations developed as individual spaces; became fondly known as the cubicle. Large, empty spaces were filled with cubicles to accommodate workloads. Easy, quick, and cheap to assemble walls still used in many office buildings today.
Workspace on demand, open spaces, pod rentals, cyber communities, email and document sharing. Workstations today and of the future is all about community, collaboration and communication.
Record keeping has vastly changed. Before computers were mainstream, there was many gaps and lost information. Today, technological advances in information storage is more streamlined, search is quick, as well efficient tracking systems. The purpose of the office remains the same as when first discovered, to keep and store records.