The Evolution of the Office

Remember when the media hailed the advent of “working from home?” Exciting. Then email made us reachable on weekends. Less exciting. Next, cell phones made us available… pretty much any time. Traditional work hours faded.

Technology advances our convenience factor and leaves “the old way” behind. As a result, we don’t use landline phones, desktop computers, or fax machines as much—if at all. Office workers stand at desks, answer email on smart phones at the grocery store, and instead of gathering at the traditional water cooler, carry personal water bottles.

Here are other office customs altered or made obsolete by the digital age:

Coffee and tea breaks. Like the water cooler, there used to be a communal coffee pot. Now, employees go to Starbucks or Tim Hortons for their java fix. It’s an opportunity to get out of the office and perhaps catch up with a colleague.

Filing cabinets. As we work on the go much more often, we are keeping files electronically, and not in paper format, file folders, or binders. So if you don’t need to physically file paper anymore, don’t like it, have time, or just don’t want to, get rid of the filing cabinet to make space for something else. Like a popcorn machine.

An individual office or workspace. Conventional places to work have evolved from employees having their own space, to sharing them. While having a door and ceiling is often a status symbol in an organization, many companies want to level the playing field: collaborative spaces signal a new office culture.

As such, Millennials often line both sides of long tables tapping away at their laptops, usually at a start-up. And while some companies pack staff into cubicle spaces, many head offices set up extra workspaces for visiting employees.

For those who have an office, those are changing too. Many employees only need a small desk, a chair, and a laptop. It’s becoming rare to need a pen, staple remover, notepad, or even a schedule book. In a world of stuff, we are paring down.

The Office Building. If you were to take a poll of where each employee was one day in 1977, almost everyone would be in the office, or out smoking. If you took a poll in 2017, workers would be scattered: getting coffee, at the gym, at a seminar, working from home, on a conference call to France, FaceTiming a colleague in Japan, collaborating over a ping pong table, visiting a satellite office, or on a company brainstorming retreat.

Clearly, digital advances have impacted the way we work and changed our corporate culture. Yes we’ve given up some privacy, but gained flexibility, freedom, and self-determination. I think that’s exciting.