A Brief History of the Office Workspace

Written by Wes Towers
Wednesday , May 22, 2013 0:00

When we think of office work, most of us probably envisage a modern, well-lit, carpeted, air-conditioned office building, with workers seated at comfortable workstations. However, the office workspace has an interesting history going back over 1,000 years, and it has certainly adapted itself to the changing world of work over the centuries.

Early times

The word  office is derived from the Latin officium meaning service or duty, and still to this day is used to denote a function or position of duty, as well as a workspace. Office work has its roots in ancient monasteries, where scribes worked standing up in isolated spaces at scriptoriums to produce various hand-written manuscripts and records.

Prior to the Renaissance, government administrative tasks, including the writing of letters and laws, were handled in a record office or chancery. Scrolls were stored in pigeon holes built into the walls of the office  a kind of precursor to more modern book shelving.

The Renaissance

From the time of the Renaissance in the 13th century, commerce and trade increased and merchants began to use standalone buildings in which to run their businesses, and undertake administrative and clerical tasks.

The Industrial Revolution to the 20th century

Of course with the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, businesses expanded to include transport, communications, banking and insurance.

This meant the requirement for administrative and clerical workers increased, and multi-storey buildings started to appear.

During the 20th century, the construction of dedicated office buildings expanded all across the industrialised world due to the requirement for clerks, payroll officers, bankers, accountants, mail-processors, insurance officers, lawyers and legal clerks, architects, typists, record-keepers and so forth.

The modern office workspace

The 21st century workspace is of a far more comfortable design than earlier offices, especially due to concerns over occupational health and safety. While traditional office buildings are still used the in the main, the use of office sharing and office workstation rentals is becoming more popular, affording many modern workers more flexible options, along with cost-sharing of overheads and rents. Share office spaces might well be the way of the future for small business.