The Past, Present and Future of Workspace Design


The trends in office designs and workplaces have drastically changed in the last few decades. The biggest difference of which is the technological advancement that enables efficient communication within the company. What has changed so far and what should we anticipate in the future? Let’s find out.

In the 20th century, office spaces were built to enable employees of the company to communicate and work together. They had to meet in person in order to discuss matters, make phone calls, plan projects, and lots more. Employees had to clock in and clock out at the same time from Monday to Friday, and work hours were not flexible. It was nearly impossible back then to get any work done without going to the office, because the equipment and machines needed were not accessible at home, such as fax machines, computers, telephones or printers.

However, with the rise of technology and with the generation of millennials now entering the work force, the traditional meaning of the “work environment” has drastically changed. Connectivity between individuals has improved in the 21st century. Every person has their own computer or mobile device, and with the help of the internet, anyone can be contacted wherever they are. This means more flexible work schedules and rules.

The change in accessibility has also paved the way for the innovation of workspace design. In history, evidence suggests that the first form of offices originated in Rome, mainly as spaces where official work was done. But it wasn’t until the 18th century that special buildings and offices were built. Over time, with the rise of industrialisation, efficiency became the key element in office design. The first skyscrapers were built in the early 20th century, where open plan offices were implemented, and soundproofing and partitions were placed to help workers focus and increase efficiency, mimicking the factory “assembly line”.

Towards the end of the 20th century, specifically in the 1980s, open plan offices transformed into what was known as “cubicle farms”. Middle management staff needed more private spaces to work; therefore the economical solution was to create cubicles in the office. This trend in office design quickly came to a halt, as the idea behind it was not intended for the well being of workers, but rather for the economy and efficiency.

The 1990s and beyond saw the introduction and the quick rise of the internet. Along with this technological advancement came “The Virtual Office”, where mobile devices allowed workers to essentially move offices. This also introduced the trend of “Hot Desking”, where employees were encouraged to set up and use whichever desk is available. This new form of office layout saves costs, enables flexibility and encourages collaboration between co-workers.

In 2005, software engineer Brad Neuberg, who was then going through financial troubles while building a start-up, first envisioned the idea of a co-working space. He was inspired to create a space where people like him can still have a place to work while saving money, and collaborate with other start-ups at the same time. He created the first co-working space in San Francisco. This kick started the trend of this modern type of office, and is now popular all over the world.

In Indonesia, the popularity of co-working spaces has drastically increased in the last few years, with world-renowned co-working spaces such as WeWork and Impact Hub establishing branches in Jakarta. Local co-working spaces have also popped up, and the competition between these spaces is now intense. One of the leading co-working spaces in Indonesia is GoWork, increasing in popularity due to its convenient locations – inside malls. More spaces in Jakarta include Conclave, Kolega, Freeware, Greenhouse and lots more.

So, what is the future of office design? After analysing its history and current trends, it seems to be that the future of work environments has one priority: people. Companies are now realising that integrating a sense of community will remain important to the future workplace, especially as advancements in technology encourage people to work from home or anywhere they please, and potentially become more isolated. Different kinds of people should feel comfortable in the place they work in, and should not be forced to conform to the same standard.

Prioritising people will certainly change the physical design of workspaces. It can be predicted that offices of the future will have different colours and styles in each room, and incorporate a sense of playfulness in the workplace, in order to protect employees’ well being which in turn will help with camaraderie and efficiency in the workplace. Another element that will surely be eminent in the future is the use of natural light and greenery, to help workers feel in touch with the outside world during working hours; the opposite of the old casino model.

Numerous people have varying opinions about the future of interior design in offices, however one concept remains the same and that is boosting workers’ mental health and well being. Indonesia Design spoke to some of Indonesia’s most prominent interior designers and architects to get their opinions on this topic, and the next section will show you how the future of workspace design in the country may be…

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