DATE: 11/18/2015

Obviously, we think the answer is yes: Office furniture can be conducive to productivity, while remaining aesthetically pleasing to both clients and staff. Nonetheless, the question is something many CEOs have grappled with in recent years. Other questions like – How do you find the right balance between professionalism and personality? Will my employees get any work done if the office feels too comfortable? How do I give staff privacy without making the space look like a soulless, cubicle farm? – have permeated redesign conversations.

As youthful companies continue to push the envelope of just how casual the modern office can be (ie. writable glass walls, playful slides, reconfigurable furnishings and lounge-like collaboration spaces), and actually reporting positive results from such a departure from traditional decor, older companies are beginning to consider if such elements would be appropriate for their own workspaces.

Even San Antonio offices are trending toward casual sophistication and fun. But this begs the question: Where did we get the idea that offices needed to be boring in order to be productive in the first place?

Throughout history, offices have existed as a means of conducting business. The word is based off the Roman Latin “officium,” loosely meaning “bureau.” Interestingly, in ancient Rome, the term wasn’t so much used to refer to a specific place as it was the people within them. Such multi-functional organizations comparable in size and complexity to what we now see arrived in the late 18th century via the Royal Navy and East India Company (both established to further Britain's interests overs).

But it wasn’t until the 20th century that the modern office was born: Electric lighting allowed employees to work without expensive gas lighting; typewriters and calculators large amounts of data to be processed quickly; and communication devices allowed offices to be located away from home and factories.

Further, thanks to the inventions of the lift and steel frame construction, the NYC + Chicago skyscrapers we know and love were erected. All of this, coupled with the manual labor and production innovations of the Industrial Revolution, gave rise to what we now consider the modern office. Efficiency was the name of the game, and many of the productivity and design ideas utilized were borrowed from “the factories.”

Ironically, our modern conversation of how to best maximize productivity is nothing new! Architect Frank Lloyd Wright is credited with executing the first commercially-viable Taylorist office. The design (named after Frederick Winslow Taylor, aka. “the father of scientific management”), sought to translate the methodology of the assembly line to the white-collar office.

Constant workflows were constructed by delegating simple + repetitive tasks to workers in furniture set-ups that facilitated said tasks. Aesthetics were not yet considered important. What was good enough for the factories was considered good enough for the offices.

A number of other office evolutions took place over the following decades, each one slowly incorporating beauty a bit more into overall strategy. That is, until the 1980s. As greed arguably became rampant in a growing American economy, many employers saw “the cubicle farm” as an opportunity for greater profits. Despite common misconceptions, the cubicle was originally created with the goal of introducing individual autonomy, flexibility and freedom to the workplace. Unfortunately, employers and manufacturers far removed the end product from its creator’s original intention. And numerous studies have since concluded the set-up only dispirits employees and decreases productivity.

The answer – comfortable, collaborative and casual workspaces that make employees feel like they are working in their own homes. Wondering if you can pull this off and still look professional?

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