Workplace environments: where they were, are and will be

The way we work has changed dramatically in recent decades, in no small part due to the technological revolution we’re living through, but also thanks to shifts in cultural and societal beliefs. This is a continually evolving process, and it affects not only the offices we work in themselves but the culture they promote and the way we get our work done. 

Understanding how far things have come, and where they’re likely to be heading, will give you a headstart to ensuring your business doesn’t end up being behind the times. So, without further ado, let’s take a step back in time.

Where they were

Workplace design

Back in the 1950s hierarchical workplaces were all the rage – the top management inhabited large and luxurious corner officers, whereas those lower down the pecking order had the smaller spaces (if they were lucky) or were on individual desks.

If you’ve ever seen Mad Men, you can probably picture the rows and rows of typists in an old-school office space, and it wasn’t until the invention of computers much later in the century that typewriters became a thing of the past. 

Cubicles were introduced in an attempt to offer employees their own space, but they were quickly perceived as a form of corporate drudgery. 


Two of the overriding factors in workplace culture during the 1900s were hierarchy and discrimination. Just like offices were allocated based on status, the cultures within them were overtly top-down and formal. Those at the top held all the power, with the open communication and contribution from all levels we see today unthinkable at the time.

For women and minority groups, it was a turbulent time. Although more and more women fought hard to enter the workplace they were often resigned to secretarial and administrative roles while being criticised for ‘shortchanging’ their families. 

Styles of working

It was a pretty one size fits all approach back in the day, since the technology that allows us to work from almost anywhere today wasn’t yet invented. Your average worker did a 48-hour working week and the amount of the workforce who were employed on a part-time basis was a tiny 4%.

Where they are

Workplace design

Flexible, tech-driven workplaces are on the rise, but according to some sources the typical office is still set-up in a way discernible to the first ones built 100s of years ago, and today’s organisational scholars believe that’s a problem.

In recent years open-plan spaces have become increasingly popular, but workers don’t like it. In fact, it’s been suggested they’re a barrier to employee engagement, motivation, productivity and business’s bottom lines. 

Why? One study found that an average office worker is interrupted from their job every three minutes (by technology or a colleague), and it takes them up to 23 minutes to get back to what they were doing. 

Office designers and workplace innovators believe offering a variety of spaces and areas for workers to use is the solution – we’ll talk more about that later. 


Workplace cultures have come on in leaps and bounds. Businesses have realised their workforce is their best asset and begun adopting employee-centric cultures within which their staff are nurtured and well looked after. 

Overtly top-down hierarchies are being replaced by flatter alternatives, within which employees are given the freedom to decide how to complete their jobs, and employers encourage open communication between all layers of the business. 

Thankfully, widely accepted sexism and discrimination is a thing of the past, with 71.8% of women being employed (compared to 80.3% of men). But they’re not out of the woods yet and it’s reported that 78% of the UK’s biggest companies have a gender pay gap in favour of men. 

Styles of working

Thanks to technology, the way we work today have changed the most. Remote working and working from home are on the up and 66% of companies now allow their employees to work outside of the office, with 16% opting to do so full-time. 

The labour market is actively seeking flexible working options, with condensed working weeks, remote working, flexi-time, term-time only hours and working from home becoming increasingly popular options. And it’s no bad thing, in fact, flexible working has been shown to increase productivity as well as reduce employee turnover.

Collaborative workspaces are also gaining momentum – with organisations understanding more of what employees need and giving it to them. These spaces allow employees the autonomy to break free from the shackles of a desk and foster positive and creative relationships with their colleagues. 

Did you know? A full-time job typically involves a 37-hour week for today’s workforce, 11 hours less than their counterparts 60 years ago. 

Where they will be

Workplace design

As it stands only half of British workers believe their working environment is conducive to working productively, and experts believe that by improving this national prosperity will improve long-term. 

How? By creating an environment that invigorates your staff. Leaders in this field have come up with novel, varied, flexible and exciting workspaces for their staff, but simply copying them (and sticking a huge slide in the middle of your office, for example) is unlikely to spark any real change. The key to doing it right is to engage your workforce from the offset, work collaboratively, and regularly evaluate and adapt. 

Companies who’ve already taken the lead in workplace design include Google, MoneyPenny and Sky Central, and their efforts have not only reduced employee turnover but boosted satisfaction, motivation, and productivity as well as their candidate pool. 


Without a crystal ball, it’s hard to say exactly how workplace cultures will look in the coming decades, but some scholars have predicted diversity will continue to grow with demographic shifts and evolving technology. 

Millennials, the future of our workforce, may give a good insight into what the future holds. Research shows they want continual professional development, autonomy at work and to feel like they’re making a difference in their role. It’s likely then that these three things will become embedded in the cultures of organisations looking to secure top talent in the future.

Styles of working

There are two fields of thought on how we’ll work in the future. The first predicts that with advancements in technology, more and more people will opt to work remotely or from home. The second believes that if the aforementioned innovations in office design are effectively adopted by businesses, offices will become popular again.

The founder of Hatch, an organisational change consultancy, Monica Parker, said: 

People always need a place to come together and while coffee shops are great, people still like to have a place they can call a work home. I don’t think work has left the building – there is still that communal driver.”

Want help future proofing your business and hiring the best talent out there? Well then you’ve landed on the right blog, because we’re experts on all things recruitment. Get in touch today to see how we can help make sure you’ve got the best team to tackle whatever the future may hold.