Types of Offices: Past, Present and Future

The evolution of office space has gone through many different changes through the past century. This infographic provided by the University of Southern California Applied Psychology Department explains the evolution of office space.

Psychology of the Office Space

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Psychology of the Office Space Infographic


University of Southern California


Psychology of the Office Space The evolution of office space has gone through many different changes through the past century. During the 1920s, Frederick Taylor heavily influenced American office culture by making it his goal to maximize the efficiency of the workplace with a wide-open floor plan and desks facing a supervisor. Over time, different types of office plans become popular. The “universal offices” of the 1950s had air conditioning, windows and fluorescent lighting. Cubicles were introduced shortly after, with workspaces that were a variety of heights and had freedom of movement. The recession during the 1980s and 1990s brought on mergers and layoffs. The space had to be maximized to allow more workers to fit into the same space. Open spaces that allowed for more mobility for workers became the trend again in the 1990s through the beginning of the 21st century. Then, collaborative spaces became popular instead of the open workspace model. Employees are able to decide how and where they would like to work. It is crucial that employees stay motivated to remain productive. In fact, the following is true when people are not motivated to work: *Employees end up taking more sick days when they are unhappy in the workplace. The estimate is as high as 15 sick days every year. *Lost productivity leads to less profits. The U.S. economy loses between $450 million to $550 million in profits yearly due to this reason. Some famous companies that have adopted a more alternative model to increase workers’ levels of satisfaction and efficiency include AOL Ventures, Mozilla, Facebook and Google. To learn more about the psychology of the office space, checkout this infographic created by the University of Southern California’s Online Master’s in Applied Psychology program.

Types of Offices: Past, Present and Future

Work environments have changed over the past century, and employees have had to adapt to different types of offices. Today, modern companies are considering the psychology of workspaces to design environments where employees can flourish.

To learn more, check out the infographic created by USC’s Master of Science in Applied Psychology Program (MAPP).

Types of Offices: Past

Rapid technological innovation in the 20th century forced employers to rethink the design and function of workspaces.

The Evolution of Office Spaces

In the 1920s, Frederick Taylor, an influential management guru, used large, open floor spaces, with all desks facing a supervisor to maximize efficiency. In the following decade, air conditioning was introduced into the workspace, followed by fluorescent lighting in the 1940s.

Then, in the 1950s, came “universal offices”: a setup in which managers worked in offices with windows, and employees were in open-air bullpens. The availability of indoor lighting and air conditioning made this change possible.

In 1964, American furniture company Herman Miller introduced the Action Office system (later called the cubicle): a three-walled system featuring desks and work spaces of varying heights that allowed for  freedom of movement. Beginning in the 1980s and through the 1990s, an economic recession led to layoffs and mergers. Managers increasingly used the cubicle to fit as many people as possible into a small space.

The 1990s through the early 2000s saw open space and technological innovation. As a result, workers could be mobile around the office space. Technology companies also led the charge toward flexible, collaborative spaces in the 2000s. However, a backlash ensued over the open office layout, with many citing damage to attention spans, productivity, creative thinking and job satisfaction.

Types of Offices: Present

Companies across the United States are using different workspaces to improve productivity and employee engagement.

The Cost of Unproductive Workers

Low productivity costs employers $1.8 billion every year. In addition, employee internet use unrelated to work responsibilities costs businesses $63 billion in lost productivity.

A study of 1,989 workers aged 18 and over showed that 79% didn’t consider themselves productive throughout the entire day. The average time spent doing productive work in a day was 2 hours and 53 minutes.

The study also showed that common distractions in the office include checking social media (47%), reading news websites (45%), discussing out-of-work activities (38%), making hot drinks (31%), taking smoking breaks (28%), text/instant messaging (27%), eating snacks (25%), making food (24%), making calls to partners/friends (24%) and searching for new jobs (19%).

Not surprisingly, employee preferences affect productivity. Remote workers are 47% more productive than office workers, while happy workers are 20% more productive than unhappy workers. Engaged workers are 38% more productive than unengaged workers.

A Shift in Workspaces

Companies are investing heavily in office redesign efforts to keep employees happy and productive. Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon have revolutionized working by introducing collaborative technologies, platforms and devices and transforming office space. The current office space features clusters of individuals and collaborative spaces for spontaneous discussion and innovation.

Types of Workspaces Used Today

In the traditional workspace, a company leases or purchases a building or an office to furnish and use according to its preferences. Small business professionals may prefer the coworking option, in which they join shared workspaces with varied work areas. This may include furnished offices and open floor plans to meeting rooms and cafes.

The collaborative workspace offers advanced technological resources, ample physical space, comfortable seating and lighting and various customization options. The hybrid workspace mixes in-office and remote work features to offer flexibility and boost productivity. In the virtual workspace, employees aren’t required to come into an office; they can work from home, a coffee shop, a coworking space or even the beach — anywhere with an internet connection.

Types of Offices: Future

Modern companies are reimagining the workplace and leading the way in developing sustainable, efficient, comfortable types of offices and workspaces.

Cutting-Edge Workspaces

Miro is an online whiteboard tool that allows 1,000 individuals to work on a board simultaneously. The tool is integrated with Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Workspace and features a template gallery with sample presentations, icebreaker ideas and event planning documents.

Dropbox renamed its offices Dropbox Studios in July 2021 after going “virtual first.” This new office space is designed for cross-team collaboration and team building rather than daily tasks. The company also adopted “core collaboration hours” (a four-hour block) to allow flexibility for better work-life balance.

LYLA is a concierge service that helps employees with challenging daily tasks, such as planning home projects, planning time off and seeking mental health resources. The company has also launched an app to prevent worker burnout. LYLA reports that the average user accesses the app three times per month and saves an estimated 16 hours of free time.

The performance management company 15Five strives to standardize manager-employee communication across hybrid teams and engage remote workers. It launched Transform, which is a platform for coaching and education designed to help managers reach their potential, as well as Career Hub, which is designed to help human resources managers guide employees to higher positions within the company.

Reimagining the Workspace

Advanced technological tools, intuitive physical environments and a greater understanding of employee preferences are helping companies meet the needs of their workforce and remain competitive.


Fast Company, “The 10 Most Innovative Companies in the Workplace in 2022”

FounderJar, “The Ultimate List of Employee Productivity Statistics for 2022”

GeekWire, “In the Hybrid Work Era, Tech Companies Experiment With New Office Layouts”

Indeed, Pros and Cons of Open Offices

K2 Space, The History of Office Design

SAP, What Is a Hybrid Workplace Model and How Does It Work?

SpaceIQ, Collaborative Workspaces for a Better Team Experience