An office is generally a room or other area where an organization's employees perform administrative work in order to support and realize objects and goals of the organization. The word "office" may also denote a position within an organization with specific duties attached to it ; the latter is in fact an earlier usage, office as place originally referring to the location of one's duty. When used as an adjective, the term "office" may refer to business-related tasks. In law, a company or organization has offices in any place where it has an official presence, even if that presence consists of a storage silo rather than an establishment with desk-and-chair. An office is also an architectural and design phenomenon: ranging from a small office such as a bench in the corner of a small business of extremely small size, through entire floors of buildings, up to and including massive buildings dedicated entirely to one company. In modern terms an office is usually the location where white-collar workers carry out their functions. As per James Stephenson, "Office is that part of business enterprise which is devoted to the direction and co-ordination of its various activities."
Offices in classical antiquity were often part of a palace complex or of a large temple. The High Middle Ages saw the rise of the medieval chancery, which was usually the place where most government letters were written and where laws were copied in the administration of a kingdom. With the growth of large, complex organizations in the 18th century, the first purpose-built office spaces were constructed. As the Industrial Revolution intensified in the 18th and 19th centuries, the industries of banking, rail, insurance, retail, petroleum, and telegraphy grew dramatically, requiring many clerks, and as a result more office space was assigned to house their activities. The time-and-motion study, pioneered in manufacturing by F. W. Taylor led to the "Modern Efficiency Desk" of 1915 with a flat top and drawers below, designed to allow managers an easy view of the workers.
However, by the middle of the 20th century, it became apparent that an efficient office required discretion in the control of privacy, and gradually the cubicle system evolved.
The main purpose of an office environment is to support its occupants in performing their jobs. Work spaces in an office are typically used for conventional office activities such as reading, writing and computer work. There are nine generic types of work space, each supporting different activities. In addition to individual cubicles, one can find meeting rooms, lounges, and spaces for support activities, such as photocopying and filing. Some offices also have a kitchen area where workers can make their lunches. There are many different ways of arranging the space in an office and whilst these vary according to function, managerial fashions and the culture of specific companies can be even more important.
While offices can be built in almost any location and in almost any building, some modern requirements for offices make this more difficult, such as requirements for light, networking, and security. The major purpose of an office building is to provide a workplace and working environment - primarily for administrative and managerial workers. These workers usually occupy set areas within the office building, and usually are provided with desks, PCs and other equipment they may need within these areas.
HistoryThe structure and shape of the office is impacted by both management thought as well as construction materials and may or may not have walls or barriers. The word stems from the Latin officium, and its equivalents in various, mainly romance, languages. An officium was not necessarily a place, but rather an often mobile 'bureau' in the sense of a human staff or even the abstract notion of a formal position, such as a magistrature. The relatively elaborate Roman bureaucracy would not be equaled for centuries in the West after the fall of Rome, even partially reverting to illiteracy, while the East preserved a more sophisticated administrative culture, both under Byzantium and under Islam.
Offices in classical antiquity were often part of a palace complex or a large temple. There was usually a room where scrolls were kept and scribes did their work. Ancient texts mentioning the work of scribes allude to the existence of such "offices". These rooms are sometimes called "libraries" by some archaeologists and the general press because one often associates scrolls with literature. In fact they were true offices since the scrolls were meant for record keeping and other management functions such as treaties and edicts, and not for writing or keeping poetry or other works of fiction.
Middle AgesThe High Middle Ages saw the rise of the medieval chancery, which was usually the place where most government letters were written and where laws were copied in the administration of a kingdom. The rooms of the chancery often had walls full of pigeonholes, constructed to hold rolled up pieces of parchment for safekeeping or ready reference, a precursor to the bookshelf. The introduction of printing during the Renaissance did not change these early government offices much.
Medieval illustrations, such as paintings or tapestries, often show people in their private offices handling record-keeping books or writing on scrolls of parchment. All kinds of writings seemed to be mixed in these early forms of offices. Before the invention of the printing press and its distribution there was often a very thin line between a private office and a private library since books were read or written in the same space at the same desk or table, and general accounting and personal or private letters were also done there.
It was during the 13th century that the English form of the word first appeared when referring to a position involving duties. Geoffrey Chaucer appears to have first used the word in 1395 to mean a place where business is transacted in The Canterbury Tales.
As mercantilism became the dominant economic theory of the Renaissance, merchants tended to conduct their business in the same buildings, which might include retail sales, warehousing and clerical work. During the 15th century, population density in many cities reached the point where stand-alone buildings were used by merchants to conduct their business, and there was a developing a distinction between church, government/military, and commerce uses for buildings.
Emergence of the modern officeWith the growth of large, complex organizations such as the Royal Navy and the East India Company in the 18th century, the first purpose-built office spaces were constructed. The Old Admiralty was built in 1726 as a three-storey U-shaped brick building and was the first purpose built office building in Great Britain. As well as offices, the building housed a board room and apartments for the Lords of the Admiralty. In the 1770s, many scattered offices for the Royal Navy were gathered into Somerset House, the first block purpose-built for office work.
c.1800. The company employed an army of bureaucrats to administer its territories in India.
The East India House was built in 1729 on Leadenhall Street as the headquarters from which the East India Company administered its Indian colonial possessions. The Company developed a very complex bureaucracy for the task, which required thousands of office employees to process the necessary paperwork. The Company recognized the benefits of centralized administration, and required that all workers sign in and out at the central office, daily.
As the Industrial Revolution intensified in the 18th and 19th centuries, the industries of banking, rail, insurance, retail, petroleum, and telegraphy dramatically grew in size and complexity. To transact business, an increasing large number of clerks were needed to handle order-processing, accounting, and document filing, with increasingly specialized office space required to house these activities. Most of the desks of the era were top heavy with paper storage bins extending above the desk-work area, giving the appearance of a cubicle and offering the workers some degree of privacy.
The relatively high price of land in the central core of cities lead to the first multi-story buildings, which were limited to about 10 stories until the use of iron and steel allowed for higher structures. The first purpose-built office block was the Brunswick Building, built in Liverpool in 1841. The invention of the safety elevator in 1852 by Elisha Otis saw the rapid escalation upward of buildings. By the end of the 19th century, larger office buildings frequently contained large glass atriums to allow light into the complex and improve air circulation.
By 1906, Sears, Roebuck and Co had opened their mail order and headquarters operation in a building in Chicago, at the time the largest building in the world. The time and motion study, pioneered in manufacturing by F. W. Taylor and later applied to the office environment by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, led to the idea that managers needed to play an active role in directing the work of subordinates in order to increase the efficiency of the workplace. F.W. Taylor advocated the use of large, open floor plans, and desks that faced supervisors. As a result, in 1915, the Equitable Life Insurance Company in New York City introduced the “Modern Efficiency Desk” with a flat top and drawers below, designed to allow managers an easy view of the workers. This led to a demand for a large square footages per floor in buildings, and a return to the open spaces that were seen in pre–industrial revolution buildings.
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However, by the midpoint of the 20th century, it became apparent that an efficient office required discretion in the control of privacy, which is needed to combat tedium linked to poor productivity, and to encourage creativity. In 1964, the Herman Miller company engaged Robert Propst, a prolific industrial designer, who came up with the concept of the Action Office which later evolved into the cubicle office furniture system.