And here’s history on how we found “The freedom to choose how we’d like to work,” as stated by David Heinemeier Hansson.

By Tremis Skeete, for Product Coalition

In today’s modern “post-pandemic” world where we all know at least one person who works from home or anywhere they choose — there’s an ironic yet curious idea going around.

Let’s have an office party and celebrate the creation of… the office!

I’m just kidding, but in what you’re about to read, it may prompt you to contemplate how far we’ve come as a society when it comes to having access to options for how we want to work.

In a LinkedIn post, CTO of Basecamp David Heinemeier Hansson in the face of possible chagrin, challenges notions that offices represent outmoded ways of working, according to telecommuting advocates. “Because I find it so nonsensical to hear remote-work advocates proclaim the universal, moral superiority of abolishing the office,” He explains.

David Heinemeier Hansson, CTO of Basecamp and Hey, and creator of Ruby-on-Rails

David points to the office’s role in the fact that now more than ever, there are many opportunities for people to find careers where they can potentially work from anywhere in the world.

In light of David’s post, we wanted to surface a few events that led to our current ways of working, so we performed some historical research on the evolution of office design. Here’s what we’ve uncovered.

According to research from K2 Space, a UK-based design consultancy, we found the following account of what’s reportedly the first office:

“The first office building was built in 1726 in London and became known as The Old Admiralty Office. It served to handle the masses of the paperwork generated by the Royal Navy and included meeting spaces and the Admiralty Board Room, which is still used today.”

Source: K2 Space

The Admiralty Office. Source: https://k2space.co.uk/

“This was followed swiftly in 1729 by the construction of East India House on Leadenhall Street in London, which acted as the HQ for East India Trading Company and its legions of workers. By now, the advent of a centralised concentrated space to administer increasing amounts of paperwork had gained traction, with new offices popping up throughout London.”

Source: K2 Space

During the rise of the first “modern offices,” several practices, technologies, and movements emerged, which spawned an awareness of what workers needed in these spaces for businesses to succeed:

“The earliest modern offices were remarkable for their scientific approach and emphasised efficiency and the adoption of a rigid, regimented office layout that resulted in workers sitting at endless rows of desks with managers located in encircling offices where they could observe.”

Source: K2 Space

A Taylorist Inspired Office. Source: https://k2space.co.uk/

“These early, open plan offices which grew in popularity throughout the early 20th Century, followed the principles of ‘Taylorism’, a methodology created by mechanical engineer, Frank Taylor, who sought to maximise industrial efficiency. There has been much criticism of Taylor’s approach, as it failed to take into consideration human and social elements and focused exclusively on ensuring employers gained maximum productivity from their staff.”

“At the same time, large skyscrapers designed to accommodate numerous companies and their staff had begun to appear in cities across the USA, and in some parts of the UK.”

Source: K2 Space

The Home Insurance Building. It’s known as the first USA skyscraper in history, and the first building in the world to include a full steel frame structure. The building opened in Chicago in 1885 and was demolished 46 years later in 1931. Source: https://www.history.com/

“This new architectural phenomenon [skyscrapers] was made possible by the invention of electric lighting, air conditioning and the telegraph system which meant that offices no longer had to be situated beside factories.”

“However, it was the birth of the lift and of steel frame construction, that ushered in a radically new way of working and consequently heralded the growth of office design as a discipline, and so the history of office design entered a new period.”

Source: K2 Space

As office developers continued to learn from their successes and blunders — we fast forward to the 1980s where it’s remembered by many as an oppressive period for in-office workers, particularly in “cubicle farms”:

Cubicle farm. Source: https://k2space.co.uk/

“The availability of cheap, but effective modular walls alongside an increased focus on profitability at the expense of work conditions are seen as key factors behind the complete shift in office design, suffered throughout the 1980s.”

“The history of office design at this point digressed and became a ‘stack them highly; sell them cheap’ model, and entered what is now widely acknowledged as one of the more depressive (if not, the most) periods since it had emerged as a discipline.”

Source: K2 Space

Thirty plus years later, we have many instances of flexible and remote work environments such as co-working spaces and hot desks. These places reveal how features such as access to natural light, quality food and beverages, and break out spaces are now standard as opposed to a luxury.

A modern office break out space. Source: https://k2space.co.uk/

We also can’t ignore the breakthrough circular design of the Apple Park “Spaceship” headquarters in California. It’s remarkable structure rests on over 170 acres, reportedly in harmony with natural landscapes around it.

Apple Park. Source: https://appleinsider.com/

Apple Park also includes access to fitness and wellness spaces, a restaurant and café, communal spaces for collaboration, and if needed, private office spaces for focused work activities. In the eyes of architects and designers, it’s viewed as one of the most beautiful office campuses in the world.

There’s more research we could share but we believe the evidence presented makes great points. When it comes to having choices between working in offices or remotely, we’ve arguably made significant strides.

Apple Design team at Apple Park. Source: https://www.wallpaper.com/

We’re all aware of the positions on this debate. Offices are viewed as the root cause of employees lacking job autonomy, creativity, and productivity. Advocates of the office claim that it’s the other way around, and working remotely is simply not doing good business.

In response, David asserts that in light of the past pandemic and other factors, we can accept beyond reasonable doubts that telecommuting is a recognized way of working.

So ask yourself — why make this debate into cases of “us versus them,” when today we have opportunities to collaborate as “us and them”?

While the COVID pandemic represents a tipping point for making “work from anywhere” a reality, there are organizations around the world that remain committed to in-office work cultures — and that’s okay.

What’s the resolution? Recognize that it’s all about having options.

Let’s appreciate the work models that co-exist in society today, and now it’s truly up to you to find an environment and a culture that fits you — whether it’s working in the office, remotely, or a hybrid of both.

Read a copy of David’s LinkedIn post below to find out more:


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