From open plan layouts to comfortable breakout spaces, the modern office looks decidedly different from the cubicle farms of the past. Kitted out with Apple products and fancy coffee machines, the working environments of today actively combat the drudgery that historically defined the office experience.
It isn’t just the latest tech and collaborative workspaces that separates the contemporary office from its dusty ancestors, though. Sure, the look and feel of offices have undergone a seismic shift, but the general attitude to work itself is what’s undergone a revolution.
Instead of punishing surroundings, today’s workers are treated to perks like free lunches and beer fridges. This transformation in working conditions has all but ensured that instead of breeding another generation of clock-watchers, employers are taking big steps to make staff enjoy the time they spend at work.
This is all very good in principle, but it does beg the question of whether more relaxed offices can truly foster productivity. In other words, do we get as much done at work as our parents did? To answer this question, it would seem reasonable to compare two typical days in the office. One from the 1980s and one from the present day.
Presumably, an employee bound to the office some thirty years ago would start their day by looking at real, steel-mesh inbox. In it, they would find all the outstanding paperwork that required their attention. Equipped with their tasks, they would proceed to complete them between trips to the water cooler. The lunch hour would likely consist of some genuine socialising (no one had phones to stare into back then) and they would round of their day by attending to any remaining work.
All in all, the routine was straight-forward and distraction-free for office workers of yesteryear.
The daily routine of today’s office worker looks a little different. Rather than sitting down to a desk with a literal inbox, the modern office worker checks their email to discover what work they have to complete. Except, it’s not that easy- their computer provides them with an infinite number of distractions. Specifically, social media platforms and news sites compete for their attention whilst the smartphone in their pocket gives out the occasional vibration.
This naturally makes settling down to perform any kind of meaningful work more than a little difficult. Nonetheless, they overcome the flurry of distractions and steer themselves towards completing tasks between the occasional social media and phone check.
The lunch break could well be isolating, with the temptation to simply sink into social media being greater than the will to endure any of the mindless chit-chat with colleagues. The afternoon would look a lot like the morning, with things being ended once every last email has been replied to and every notification has been and acknowledged and responded to.
The conclusion is fairly self-evident: the fun and modern office, for all of its appeal, is littered with distractions. Thankfully, these distractions can be mitigated by paying attention to simple things like furniture and décor.
Indeed, fixtures like office chairs have been expertly engineered to increase productivity. Brands like Herman Miller have invested serious time and money into understanding how our posture affects our ability to work effectively. To dismiss all of this research to roll around on a yoga ball when replying to emails would be nothing short of absurd.
Clearly, the past can teach us some valuable lessons when it comes to office design. There’s no denying that it’s nice to play
In short, when it comes to our workplaces, we shouldn’t be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Or, more properly, we shouldn’t be throwing out the desk chair with the cubicle.
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