The workplace has changed drastically.
Not so long ago we were all working in smoke-filled offices, on chairs which were purely designed to aid the bank balances of chiropractors, surrounded by menacing cabinets which were a threat to the welfare of anyone who dared to go near them.
Now even the strict nine to five is a thing of the past.
Many workers from the 1970s, 80s and even the 90s would not recognise the modern office.
Of course, many of these changes have been driven by technology – it would be hard to imagine an office without a computer now.
But the 21st Century office has evolved far more than simply replacing typewriters with computers or fax machines with email.
In fact, such has been the size of the change that the office is no longer seen simply as a place to work. With most of us spending at least eight hours of the day at work, businesses have realised that offices need to be motivational, inspiring and healthy.
To look at just how far it has come we are going to break the modern office down into four main components.
The conversation surrounding health and wellbeing in the workplace is now at the top of the agenda for many businesses.
Research has shown that with the majority of us spending 45 per cent of our waking hours at work, the office environment has a significant impact on the health, wellbeing and the productivity of the workforce.
And that means the days of sitting at your desk with your head down for seven and a half hours, and rarely raising from a seated position, are becoming a thing of the past.
Many offices are now designed to encourage and promote movement and integrate some gentle exercise into working life.
Standing desks, for example, are becoming increasingly common and can partly negate the harmful effects of sitting too much, while locating equipment such as printers and copiers away from work areas creates an opportunity for movement in the middle of the day.
Similarly, ergonomic furniture is ensuring the office worker is no longer condemned to a life of neck, back and wrist pain. Chairs with memory foam padding, adjustable desks and ergonomic keyboards are now commonplace, while in some offices you will find stability balls instead of chairs.
As part of the greater emphasis on staff wellbeing there have been huge changes to the environment of the modern office.
After decades of shutting out the natural environment there has been an increasing move to bring the outside in and incorporate nature into the workplace.
Businesses have realised that not only does natural light look better, but it also improves wellbeing. According to research from The World Green Building Council, office workers with a window get 46 more minutes sleep per night.
Its research has also shown there is 35 per cent less short term sick leave in offices with airflow from outside and better air quality is reported to increase productivity by 8-11 per cent.
Introducing greenery to the office is observed to bring about improvements in staff concentration levels and satisfaction. And while you may not want to go as far as Google, which has created a mini Hyde Park in the central atrium of it its London HQ, living walls have become an increasingly popular feature.
Not only do they add more oxygen into the workplace but they also filter out pollutants from appliances and air conditioning. And, of course, they are visually striking.
There is also now much more emphasis on good acoustics in the workplace as businesses have realised that when employees are more comfortable and relaxed their productivity increases. In fact, offices which still suffer from irrelevant noise can result in absenteeism and staff turnover, while research from the University of Sydney showed that it takes an average of 15 minutes to regain concentration after a distraction – a few of those in a typical working day and you are looking at a considerable drop in productivity.
One of the biggest changes to the office in the past decade has been the move away from traditional separate offices and cubicles to an open plan design.
In recent years this approach has seen the introduction of breakout spaces which invite collaboration, information sharing and creativity and build stronger ties between employees and a sense of community.
To further aid this process, office designers now try to create opportunities for chance encounters, such as when employees exit lifts or use coffee machines, understanding that impromptu meetings are often the most rewarding, and then have nooks, booths and common areas nearby to give some privacy.
Modern businesses have also become increasingly aware branding shouldn’t simply be something that takes place outside of the workplace.
And it has moved on from the days where this simply meant sticking the company logo on the office wall – although you don’t need to go as far as the slides and games rooms used by the trendy tech companies.
For most forward-thinking businesses, it is about clearly communicating the brand’s values, vision, goals and mission through images, slogans, logos and mission statements. Research has shown this helps to develop a more engaged and focused workforce and can help turn employees into true brand ambassadors prepared to go the extra mile.
But it’s not just about appearance. As we spend around a third of our waking hours at work there has been a growing emphasis on ensuring employees are comfortable. While we’ve probably all heard stories of offices packed with table tennis tables, pool tables and even basketball courts, for many brands this can be as simple as comfortable sofas in a quiet area.
The inclusion of features traditionally associated with home into the workplace can help create an environment where employees feel relaxed and uninhibited and aid the collaboration we discussed earlier.
Let’s be honest, the advancement of technology has changed every aspect of our lives, not just the time we spend in the office.
But those changes have arguably been more pronounced in the workplace. We are now able to accomplish things that were once impossible in just a few seconds, while many businesses are becoming paperless – ensuring those monstrous old filing cabinets we mentioned earlier are certainly a thing of the past.
Its greatest success is that it improves efficiency and saves time by automating difficult tasks and speeding the flow of work.
It has also made the working environment much more agile. The rise of portable tech, combined with WiFi, means that people can work from anywhere in the office – gone are the days where you have to sit in the same spot all day every day, tethered to your desk. This again helps with collaboration but it also empowers employees to find a space where they can work to the best of their ability. If they find they are being regularly distracted they can simply get up and work somewhere else, for example at a work bench or in a focus room. If they need some inspiration they can head off to a more social space.
Some businesses are even taking away personal workspaces altogether. And, of course, the rise of video conferencing technology means you don’t actually have to set foot in the office at all. Now you can visually connect with almost anyone on the planet at just the click of a button. This technology is also great for getting everyone from different regional teams into the same room without incurring any transport costs.
The office has undoubtedly changed hugely and certainly for the better in terms of employee health, motivation and engagement. The pace of that change will only increase as millennials begin to dominate the workforce. By 2025 three out of four employees are predicted to be millennials.
Companies looking to attract and retain the best talent will need an office fit for the millennial workforce.