Die sechs Folgen sind geschrieben für Bene Büromöbel Österreich und erschienen auf der Homepage http://bene.com 2009



Inventing the office


15. April 2008

1. Table, book and scriptorium


11. June 2008

2. The improvised office


17. September 2008

3. The office of the days of the Enlightenment


5. October 2008

4. The bustling office


10. December 2008

5. Passions of the office work


29. September 2009

6. The digital office





1. Table, book and scriptorium

The monastery as company


What marked the beginnings of the office?

Offices play an important role in our modern world. The majority of today's work is carried out in the office. Here, companies are managed, political agendas pursued, research activities conducted and global processes initiated. Other work spaces including physician's offices and classrooms or interspaces such as foyers, aircraft and cafes are now increasingly turning into offices, too. Traditional offices are used to oversee accounting and sales activities, to manage production and purchasing, as well as administration and distribution. Furthermore, users of modern offices manage intellectual products such as logistics, work processes or design, along with a myriad of projects which don't necessarily involve any material goods at all. What marked the beginnings of the office? Where are its origins and how did it develop? Born 800 years ago, the office was first invented by monks. Looking back on a centuries-long history, in the 13th century it became a professional institution.


The monastery

The history of the office began in a monastery. Here, around 400 A.D., Saint Jerome, a monk, translated the Old Testament into Latin. Over the following centuries many monasteries commissioned copies of Jerome's writing – the Vulgate, which later became the accepted standard. Monasteries are enterprises; religious, social and economic places of production which generate material and intellectual goods. They help to preserve ancient culture by copying and translating old papyrus and parchment rolls – the oldest forms of books – and by propagating ideas. Life in a monastery is subject to strict monastic rule. The function of such rules is to create a uniform institution, encouraging commitment and /vita communis/ or communal life – a variant of modern-day team work. Members of a monastery follow a strict, ascetic lifestyle, think morally and plan their work carefully. As a result, most monasteries are not only cultural centres but also wealthy institutions. In addition, abbots were often more respected than kings, noblemen and bishops, and had more power.


The three elements of the office

From the beginning, the office has been defined by three elements: book, table and space. These objects complement one another and have remained essential office tools until today. Other accessories, though having changed their shapes throughout history, include paper, ink, erasers, leather, containers, colour and quill pens. Nonetheless, today the most essential office tool is the computer.


The book

The book, one of the key items in the office, had to be placed onto a piece of furniture, requiring a room. Books are believed to have played an important role in the cultural development of the Western World. Repositories of culture, they preserve, hone and develop cultural knowledge and skills. Scrolls were later replaced by the Roman Codex, a form of book that gained particular importance in the third century. It consists of parchment sheets which are folded, stacked and loosely pasted together at the back. Monks were only able to produce bound books from the 13th century onward, following the invention of paper. These early works were written by hand, with the first letter on each page revealing intricate ornamentation. The book covers, made of wood, were lined with leather and lavishly decorated.


The table

The discovery of the office coincides with that of the cloth-covered table. The table consisted of two blocks covered with boards. To avoid damaging the precious book covers, monks usually applied two methods: They placed a piece of cloth between the table and the book, also known as the burra, which forms the origins of "bureau", the French word for office (its modern English usage referring to a writing table, a government department or a services/news office) . Alternatively, they inserted five nails into the book cover to prevent it from coming into contact with the rough table boards. The nails lent the cover a special appearance. Only from the 13th century onward, were tables provided with lecterns. In Renaissance paintings Jerome poses on a chair, facing such a lectern. However, during his lifetime there were neither chairs, lecterns nor bound books.


The space

The third element of interest is the space itself. Previously referred to as a writing room or scriptorium in Latin, (from "scribere" - to write), the place where books were written took its name from the aforementioned cloth, which was placed between the table and the book: burra – the cloth of the cowl. In

the 17th century bureau referred to a table covered by cloth, whereas later in the 19th century the French adopted the name for the space where the cloth-covered table stood. The name reflects the combined use of the work space and the table.


The office

In the 13th century, medieval society began to change. The bourgeoisie gradually increased its political influence through trade and handicraft, while monks discovered nature and the world of perception. These developments marked the birth of scholastic philosophies in the Middle Ages. Convent schools and universities were established in newly founded cities, strictly separating science from Christian beliefs. Science, hitherto based on the doctrines of the Bible, now turned to the world of human perception, nature, morality and to biology. This development led to the separation between philosophy and faith, which in turn gave rise to new methods and theories, heralding in the beginning of the modern world one century later. With the advent of these new scholastic centers, book production increased tremendously, giving birth to the profession of the writer. Academic studies at that time involved the writing of books. To qualify for exams one had to generate three to four books as part of the university curriculum. On account of their office skills, monks later managed estates and civic enterprises. Since the 13th century, the combination of the book and cloth has been used as an instrument for learning, knowledge and organisation, having a tremendous impact on Western culture. With the emergence of the professional writer, the office was established as a separate space – even if not yet labelled with its current name. The 13th century saw the gradual emergence of Bible commentaries and individual writings, coinciding with a growing interest in education and science, which was to usher in the era of Renaissance. Today, learning about ancient culture has again gained in popularity. Stripped of its religious roots, the office continues to stake out its position in our modern world.


What can we learn from monasteries?

The most important contribution of monasteries lies in their commitment to culture and society. Apart from providing pastoral care, nuns and monks were responsible for guarding ancient cultural goods. Consequently, from the very beginning office work was closely tight to cultural work. Monasteries were particularly successful and became thriving businesses, whenever they adopted monastic rule. This trend gave rise to monasticism as a uniform idea which encourages communal achievement or /vita communis – the origins of modern-day team work. Monasteries soon adopted social responsibility, practicing team work, a rational lifestyle, disciplined office work and moral responsibility in the form of commitment to society, nature and the human being. They became successful examples for modern civil life.




2. The improvised office

Kontor und chancery of the Renaissance


Function and form of the new office

The Renaissance was an era of change and transition, giving rise to work arrangements that called for a specific type of room, something we have come to know as the office.

The office of the Renaissance centred on writing activities, preparing balance sheets and performing calculations. The accessories used were - as in monastic scriptoriums - ink and quill pen, paper, eraser and paint, additionally supplemented by abacus, scale and sealing wax.

What characterised the office in its developing stages? The office served as a collection point. Not for gathering people, but because it concentrated a specific work area. The office of the Renaissance was an informal, improvised space, about to become a type of room that would, centuries later, symbolise a central social institution – the modern office.


Departure to the modern world

The Renaissance was marked by discoveries and inventions. As the era itself, humans and the office experienced a time of change and transition – marked by innovation and improvisation. People found a new attitude towards life, modernised their thinking, behaviour and their beliefs. Prompted by this new way of life they looked to adequate room types.

At the end of the Middle Ages townspeople gained more political influence and transported monastic lifestyle along with monastic production and spirituality to the world outside of the monastery. They voiced radical criticism of social life and deemed as unworthy everything that did not conform to the new ideals. However, when old values lose their significance, while future trends have not yet fully established themselves, a fear of the unknown can emerge. At the same time this tendency motivates people to move on to pastures new.

Renaissance means rebirth, in reference to rekindling an ancient culture. Originating in Italy in the 14th century it spread in the form of intellectual and artistic individualism, giving rise to masterpieces in art, literature, science and philosophy. Philosophers, monks, artists and scientists the likes of Galileo Galilei, Erasmus von Rotterdam, Martin Luther, Michel Montaigne and Nicolò Machiavelli abandoned the ideas of clerical and worldly authorities in favour of their own experience and reason. One such scholar was engineer, philosopher and artist Leonardo da Vinci, who no longer derived the ultimate truth from the Bible, but relied on experience instead – the "mother of all knowledge".


The city – a catalyst of change

Change first originated in the city. The pioneering spirit of townspeople sparked creativity and created more needs, which in turn led to improvements in handicraft, technological revolutions, better education and prospering trade. These changes prompted a rise in written correspondence and more administrative, legal and government duties. Agreements had to be drafted, payments calculated and documents archived, which in turn generated new professions such as banking experts and lawyers, as well as accountants. People and spaces became separate entities during the Renaissance and evolved further over the following centuries.


Reinventing the individual and improvised space

In the Renaissance townspeople regarded the human being as an individual that strove to realise their own interests, defining themselves as a co-creator of the world; the homo faber, who lived life with pride, confidence and reason. God was no longer the centre of bourgeois existence, but only one of many points of reference. The bourgeois individual developed new bourgeois professions.

In the Renaissance townspeople regarded space as a separate entity, as a spatial capacity; the individual, craft, technology, education and trade had given rise to a new human ideal, along with new notions of work and space. Townspeople were subsequently forced to develop appropriate spaces to establish these new professions. Consequently, the first work spaces were improvised spaces for a given task and for exercising power.


Long-distance trade, early capitalism and banks

Early capitalism replaced medieval feudalism which was based on land ownership and the obligation to pay taxes. Conversely, in capitalism the means of production are privately owned, and production is guided through the operation of markets and freedom of contract between the entrepreneur and the workers. Capitalism is based on two religious ideas: The ascetic Benedictine motto of "prayer and work" and the teachings of reformer Jean Calvin. Calvin believed that a frugal lifestyle and hard work could lead to economic success, which was preordained and a grace of God. Coupled with the rational forms of work practiced by monks – site definition, planning and structured work – the bourgeoisie brought cultural and material riches to Europe, for the motto of Renaissance entrepreneurs was - inspired by Calvin: "do not consume but invest".

The new economic system called for the establishment of banks, since companies were required to make ever larger investments that could be provided neither by individuals nor by communes. Subsequently, wealthy towns saw the foundation of the first banks, owned by families who proceeded to gain great political influence, such as the Fuggers in Augsburg, the Medicis in Florence and the Rothschilds in Frankfurt. At the same time intensified long-distance trade and large scale production of goods involved risks and prompted the establishment of insurance companies, which together with banks increased the exchange of documents and called for intelligent spatial solutions embodied by Kontors and chanceries.


Kontor and chancery

Kontor buildings emerged with the beginnings of financial business. They were unstructured, improvised work spaces for merchants. Work in a Kontor involved accounting – comparing business activities on a financial scale – written correspondence, calculations and writing up estimates for new projects. Kontor buildings were also used as warehouses and to monitor and weigh oods and coins to determine their quality and the percentage of precious metals contained.

The first such buildings represented only bourgeois wealth. They were informal spaces, for administration, sorting and organising activities took place in passing – in church, on the market and outside. The name ‘Kontor’ goes back to the Hanseatic League, whose foreign trading posts were called Hof, Halle and Haus, and ever since 1400 Kontor. The roots of the word Kontor go back to French comptoire, which was derived from the Latin word ‘computare’ (calculating). As a result arithmeticians were also referred to as computers. Arithmetic skills continued to gain in importance, as trading activities required good mathematical abilities – usually limited to adding and subtracting. The main tool for calculations was the abacus, which had been imported from China – and is still in use even today. In the Renaissance it was replaced by accounting table with lines and later by the introduction of single digits and the decimal system, which originated from India.

The chancery was an unstructured and improvised work space for lawyers and civil servants. An office for regents and city administration.

Chanceries had even existed in the Roman Empire and had also been used by the Roman Curia ever since the 4th century. Frankish kings appointed a chancellor who was in charge of the administration of their chancery. The chancery referred first to an institution rather than a space; unlike the Kontor, which, over time, became smaller in size, turning from a Hof (court) into a Halle (hall) and into a Haus (house), until it became the typical office space in the Baroque era.


Inventing office furniture

Offices were hubs of social, scientific, technical and economic activities early on. An improvised space that soon introduced a specific working position – sitting.

In the Middle Ages monks used to stand before their writing desks in the scriptorium, just like in the Renaissance the merchants in the Kontor and the lawyers in the chancery. The Renaissance however saw the introduction of tables and chairs in wealthy Kontor buildings and chanceries. Their advent reinforced the disciplined position that is required by using a table and chair combination. Prompted by the activities of preparing balance sheets, weighing and calculating the transportable abacus was turned into a Kontor table. The stationary table had previously been used neither in private residences nor in work spaces, but was specifically invented for the new Renaissance professions.

The chair is also a Renaissance invention, for all chairs had previously resembled thrones. Thrones for kings or holy seats such as the tribune and choir stalls. Once the bourgeoisie became more respected townspeople began to imitate the position of sitting noblemen and turned the regent’s seat into an everyday object – the professional chair – and soon sitting began to dominate the working world.

While the kontorist and chancellor had not yet an adequate space at their disposal, for the first time in history the combination of table and chair set up a central area whose structure – as chair and table combination or seating area - made it appropriate for sorting activities, preparing balance sheets and administrative duties. Learning to concentrate and work quietly was a constant struggle for the staff in a Kontor or chancery, an ongoing process of discipline with many setbacks – a process, which continues even today. Chair and table form the core of our modern office.




3. The office of the days of the enlightment

Work is seen in a new light


Living and working in the days of the Enlightenment

Kontors (foreign trading posts of the Hanseatic League), scriptoria and chancelleries sparked the development of a uniform type of space in the 18th century, the period of the Enlightenment. These concepts were, however, only turned into reality with the onset of industrialisation. While these rooms were reserved for office functions, they were not yet specially furnished for office work. Nonetheless, the office became a strategic place, which promoted creativity and provided an adequate setting for streamlining, planning and developing various types of work.

The Enlightenment was the heyday of scientific development and manufacturing. This period was marked by a transition from craftsmanship to industrial manufacturing, which, at the same time, gave rise to many new professions involving organisational and administrative duties. Office work was no longer reserved to trade and commerce, but began to play a role in practical duties and scientific work. Sorting, archiving, letter writing and administrative tasks were associated with trade and commerce, and began to take root in production, public administration and education. Apart from technical skills, these responsibilities required good reading and writing skills, reasoning and a strong understanding of arithmetics. Trading posts, government agencies, factories, schools and universities set up offices, which, while still bearing the name Kontor and chancellery, were much different from offices used by businesses and government bodies.

The Enlightenment rejected mythological and religious influences. As a result offices were furnished to reflect the ideal of reason, embodied by systematic and methodical work. In order to carry out office duties,

people had to hone their intellectual abilities, which were acquired at school and work.


Work furthers education and human development

In the Enlightenment everything was illuminated and enhanced. Work gained in importance and empowered the middle class to turn against inherited aristocratic rank. People began to see work in a new light.

While in the antiquity work had been considered a menial task and in the Middle Ages a constant struggle, in the Enlightenment it was seen as a tool for human development, which would empower the burgher. In the 18th century work became an educational principle, helping to elevate the bourgeoisie to the dominant class. Office work proved extremely productive, as it involved sorting and archiving tasks, and was thus highly respected.

The Enlightenment brought compulsory education to large parts of Europe by the end of the 18th century. Compulsory education was introduced to impart generally binding educational programmes, including reading, writing and arithmetics. Middle class children were therefore trained for intellectual, commercial, technical and administrative professions.


The office became independent

The offices of the Enlightenment centred on methodical, logical and systematic work – of which the latter two require abstraction. Reducing information to the most essential elements by abstraction led to high productivity.

In the Enlightenment work underwent profound change – from working in the field to working in the workshop, later in impromptu offices and eventually inside "enlightened" offices. This period of transition began with working outdoors, followed by working indoors for limited periods of time to permanently working inside. In the Enlightenment the office became a separate space, clearly delineated from private quarters.


Enlightenment dominated all areas of life

Enlightenment is not a prerogative of philosophy, as it had been stated by René Descartes (1596-1650) in his famous quote "I think, therefore I am", or by John Locke (1632-1704) in "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding", or by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) in "Critique of Pure Reason".

Enlightenment filtered into all aspects of society in the form of thinking, understanding and reason and became manifest in many political systems across Europe as enlightened absolutism: Louis XIV (1638-1715) introduced the mercantile system, empowering the bourgeoisie while disfavouring the aristocracy. Maria Theresia (1717-1780) limited the church’s influence over the state and abolished serfdom and torture.

Frederick the Great (1712-1786) headed a strictly organised system of civil servants that provided social services to the middle class. To be able to work in an "enlightened" office, civil servants, merchants with strong mathematical skills, insurance experts, intellectual workers and chancellery staff had to be trained as office workers. Not only do humans structure the office, but the office also imposes certain rules that govern human thinking, perception and conduct. The Age of Enlightenment brought a certain degree of darkness and confinement upon humans, given that office work implies the loss of light and unrestricted movement, as is found outdoors. Office environments provide limited daylight and less fresh air, while at the same time dictating strict schedules and restricting movement and mobility.


Fighting till death

Adapting to the new offices proved to be challenging even in the 16th century. The famous case of a young aristocrat in the court chancellery of Maximilian I illustrates the dramatic impact of office work, which was regulated by strict discipline. This further shows how humans rebelled against strict schedules and rules of conduct. The aristocrat was tasked with making copies of a written text, but he only completed half of the work because he regularly went for walks. It angered him to be reminded of his duties and he went on the rampage at the chancellery. His colleagues had to lock themselves in their offices, after the nobleman ran door to door, forcefully defending his lifestyle. The bourgeois chancellery staff thought of him as idle, because they did not understand that his different lifestyle was the response to a changing world which he had not yet adapted to. Although rules had been in place, banning anyone from getting up from the Kontor desk and walking around, the aristocrat was unable to sit still in one place. He was used to moving around freely and he was driven by pride and passion.


Offices are defined by disciplin

Even today, we still force ourselves to remain seated in one confined position, while, at the same time, resisting such trends. Back then this could be witnessed in Kontor buildings, chancelleries and offices, as well as factories, next to assembly belts, at universities and schools.

As office work gained more and more in importance in the Age of Enlightenment and office workers took pride in their work, people began to remain seated for prolonged periods of time. As a result, instead of

pedigree, discipline, education and intellectual work were the attributes that raised the profile of office workers. Being disciplined enough to remain seated in one place was interpreted as moving with the times. After duties such as planning, archiving and writing letters became more and more important, staff working in Kontor buildings began to focus exclusively on desk-oriented work.


Office furniture

Disciplined office work required new structures, which in turn inspired a novel type of furnishing. The main furniture in the period of Enlightenment included standing desks, chairs and a bureau – a desk covered with felt cloth. These pieces of furniture were designed to prevent habitual walking around and tied people to one place for an extended period of time. Standing desks and tables were placed next to each other until the 19th century. Standing desks, which originated in monasteries, have remained widely popular even today. They were the predecessors of the bureau.

The bureau is a desk – a compact office which requires only minimal space. It comes with writing surfaces, drawers and trays and is modeled on the escritoire. This set-up makes for a complete office, just like any home office. The bureau was invented in the early 18th century.

Later, the name was also used to refer to a governmental office, usually furnished with such a bureau or. In addition to desks, office furnishings included chairs. However, chairs back then did not resemble their modern counterparts, but were inspired by classical shapes such as Egyptian thrones for pharaohs or the throne of the Roman Emperor. The designs changed only after chairs began to be mass produced; with the first prototype produced in 1859 for Viennese coffee houses. Despite the increasing popularity of chairs, the word ‘chairman’ was only introduced in the 20th century.



The actions of managing, sorting, financing and archiving developed into a separate science in the 18th century called cameralistics – pioneered by the Austrian Johann Mathias Puechberg, the chief bookkeeper to the royal chamber. Cameralistics, the science for cameralists, governs the internal structure of public administration, just as office work is at the heart of organizations and institutions.

Cameralism is the science of economics (Oekonomie) and administration. On the one hand there was the science of trade and commerce, and on the other hand the science of public administration, order and financing.

These ideas sparked the development of the industrial office.




4. The bustling office

Industrial production creates a maintenance


Modern offices – from the idea to implementation

Commerce, trade and education originated in the Renaissance, began to blossom in the Enlightenment - an era characterized by technological advancement - and reached their heyday during the Industrial Revolution. Factories, large cities and the theory of mechanism began to predominate and advancements were fuelled by reason, rationality and the desire for freedom.


The modern office is born: manufactories

Manufactories were manufacturing plants, characterized by specialization, labour division and mass production, often relying only on simple machinery. This new form of production also revolutionized office work, streamlining activities such as planning, writing letters and sales. Given that rapid production sequences required excellent technical and organizational abilities, new standards were established for the size and structuring of offices. While previously a workbench had sufficed for planning and development, now miscellaneous office duties were carried out in a separate room – the office of the manufactory, which marked the development of our modern offices.


From manufactories to industrial manufacturing

From manufacturing plants to factories offices underwent a dynamic development. Office work was increasingly based on the division of labour as a result of automated and refined work processes.


Founding businesses

Industrial manufacturing was prompted by the invention of the steam engine which led to the automation of production sequences. Industrial processes are streamlined ways of mass production which gave rise to international trade, creating new jobs, fuelling needs hitherto unknown and bringing forth novel types of goods. Numerous businesses began to emerge including enterprises for planning and translation, educational institutions, transport businesses, community and state administrations, waste disposal facilities and institutions for archiving and storing cultural and natural goods such as museums and zoos.


Industrious times of industrial production

The word ‘industry’ has its roots in the Latin word ‘industrius’, meaning industrious and hard-working. The Industrial Revolution reflects said industrious work attitude which was to infect the entire society. The industrial worker had to be industrious, conforming to the rhythm of the machines. Industrialisation helped to speed up and streamline work processes, resulting in typical forms governance (kratos), i.e. technocracy predominated in production, bureaucracy was characteristic of industrial organisation and political institutions, and ratiocracy - the predominance of reason – governed everyday life. Industrial production does however not imply blind industriousness, but rather a structured, methodical, rational and disciplined work ethic based on strict rules. Machines and assembly lines became the focus of industrial production.

Working with machines was considered a suitable model for office work. As a result, office work was increasingly automated by way of machines.


The industrial office and office staff

Until the mid 19th century, staff working in Kontor buildings or offices were part of a family - of a domestic household. To members of the family they were co-workers and housemates. They were subordinate to the landlord, the patriarch, to whom they were tied with their entire family. Industrialisation succeeded in liberating office workers, making their loyalty to the merchant only subject to remuneration. Family-based offices disappeared along with domestic households and Kontor staff became formal employees.

In the Middle Ages guilds reduced competition by limiting the number of assistants and the quantity of products. Mass production on the other hand required the division of labour, leading to differentiated organizational duties and labour division at the office. Banning small-scale and public activities from the office, such as storing goods and improvising, both of which were characteristic of scriptoria, chancelleries and Kontor buildings, allowed for transferring offices to larger spaces and halls and adapting the office structure to specific functions. With the advent of industrialisation offices were established in factories and tenements.


Hierarchy of spaces

While manufactories were supervised from one room only, industrial enterprises relied on several offices that were subject to one administration. Mass production prompted the emergence of additional offices duties which inspired new occupations – scribe and accountant, wages clerk and cashier, liquidator and general manager, correspondence clerk, copyist, office clerk and apprentice. A strict hierarchy which was reflected by the size and structuring of the rooms – central and busy areas were reserved for mid-level staff, dark and unappealing areas to clerks and apprentices. Whoever was higher in the hierarchy had a right to a private area or was even provided with a separate, comfortable office.

Administration emerged as a result of expanding production and the differentiation of office duties. It required the coordination of tasks, both within the same office and between individual offices.


Women as typists

The aim of industrialisation was to automate every activity, leading to the emergence of calculating machines and typewriters at the office – the typewriters of 1886.

With the invention of the typewriter women began to play a role at the office. Society was in uproar; unions, church institutions and women’s clubs protested. Men were equally perturbed, for employment – even if it involved a typewriter – was still a male-dominated activity. Women began to enter the workforce as typists, because not enough men were willing to carry out said activity. For many women this occupation presented an opportunity to gain independence and break away from the repressive domestic structures. Typing courses and lucrative typing competitions were held to promote this new occupation. Since the manufacturer Remington was able to provide a trained typist with every typewriter that it sold, the typewriter became a bestseller and women became employees.

Female typists revolutionised office work and office structures. In combination with shorthand and a uniform writing, typing helped to speed up office work and soon women altered social structures at the office. New dress codes were introduced; new codes of conducts and more distinguished manners were cultivated. Women brought sexual tension to the office, speeding up male-dominated office work and making it more colourful and diverse.

While initially women who worked at the office faced discrimination – and were even defamed as pornographic - which destroyed the reputation of many a respectable bourgeois daughters, a few decades later organisations began to raise their status by hiring female secretaries.


Streamlined offices – the root of back pain

Not only were work processes and office spaces streamlined and restructured, but even individual tasks were reduced to the essential; here particularly the desk and chair played an important role.

The engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor and the organizational psychologist Frank Bunker Gilbreth developed methods to reduce movement required at the workplace, acting on the assumption that humans were like machines. They designated spots for each work tool on the desk, providing guidance for sedentary office staff to systematically reach for said objects. Letter chutes, carbon paper and rotors for processing index cards were introduced, to eliminate the need to stand up between office duties. Good accountants were only those who did not mind that their creative impulses were limited to the designated reaching distance.


Sedentary work

Female typists successfully established sedentary work at the office. With the body bent in two right angles, sitting assists many office tasks. Limiting movement leads to increased discipline and allows one to shift attention to internal processes and to focus on organising and thinking. That is the most notable benefit of sitting. However, there is also a flip side: with prolonged sitting humans tend to – while being physically inactive and focusing on specific desk-bound activities – lose physical strength and fitness, become mentally and emotionally rigid, suffer from back pain or a herniated disc, and may even forget how to walk and stand upright properly. Even activities which can be better performed while walking and standing are now carried out in sitting – one example: balance sheet books were often several meters wide. As a result chairs with castors were designed which could be used to slide along the edge of the book without having to stand up.


Physical activity is important

However, soon it became evident that prolonged periods of typing while sitting, such as advocated by the Taylor system, makes people ill. Women were only able to work a few years as typists before suffering from tendosynovitis and muscle tension. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until half a century later that industrial scientists and orthopaedists began taking into account the physical strain of sedentary office activities. Only then it became obvious that humans were not cut out for prolonged periods of sitting without sufficient movement.

Not only is it untrue that limiting movement leads to increased performance, but inactivity even promotes illness. It is not reduced activity but adequately performed physical exercise that helps humans to stay healthy.


Office work – a respected position

With the dawn of industrialisation, the office began to shape human thought, action and perception. The modern office first freed men, and later also women from patriarchal households, opening up new occupations for females beyond household duties. Both sexes worked jointly on projects, which helped to turn office work into an appealing occupation by the end of the 19th century – and into a respected position.




5. Passions of the office work

Offices in the 20th century


Passion for collecting

The bureau as a collecting point. The office is a collecting point, where varied passions and media are concentrated. However, it is not the office which acts as a collective force but rather the burra or bureau. The bureau is always adapted to seating furniture such as chairs, benches, stools and kneeling chairs. It is the communicative surface that structures and gathers everything else. The chair and bureau are the highly efficient work basis. All archiving and administrative activities are centred around the bureau, which is at the heart of the company. It becomes a fertile ground for ideas.

Office work is the making real of the human memory. That which workers can’t remember has to be stored . This allows sorting and filing, the justification and retrieving of previous courses of action. In brief, it is a passion for maintaining and keeping. Orders, receipts and letters, employment and dismissal records, revenues, profit and banking transactions, annual balance sheets and perspectives must all be kept accessible and require systematic and extensive storage systems. For this, office work in the early twentieth century came up with files, card indexes and punch card systems. These were followed by discs, hard drives, CDs and flash drives – the height of the passion for storage.


Passion for structuring

Adequately designed spaces reflect the tasks and functions for which they were designed. Therefore the many small offices of industrial administration are an expression of the division of labour of a productive factory and the resultant differentiation of storage tasks.

These office rooms with their arsenal of various tools, machines and media such as filing cabinets, card indexes and telephones, dictation machines and typewriters, tables and chairs determined the office structure of the first decades of the twentieth century. They provided clear structure for administrative work and allowed intensive working within confined spaces.

Yet, the attempt to make office work more efficient and to reproduce the style of a factory led to the disappearance of small offices and the emergence of open-plan offices. These are large rooms arranged like a factory floor, made up of associated, identical spatial elements. They are joined together by means of conveyor belts which carry information, instructions and files to the work places.

At the beginning of the twentieth century still just around three percent of all employees of manufacturing companies were office workers, because their work was considered an unproductive add-on to manufacturing itself. However, this type of work developed into a desirable occupation, thanks to the useful impact it had on manufacturing processes and the entry of the woman into the working world. Production and administration had not yet however joined forces.


Passion for right angles – the Staffel chair

Office work is one of those activities in which people passionately cultivate sitting, at the cost of some pain. A passion which is often mocked. The standard item of office furniture has been since the start of the twentieth century the chair designed by orthopaedist F. Staffel – a chair with a small, flat seat at lower-thigh level and a suspended leather back rest, fixed to a broad, flat spring. The back rest is intended to provide support in any position and where possible to maintain a right angle – but both cannot always be achieved. Despite this, the Staffel chair is used in office work and, where possible, in factory work too. Throughout the century it also served as a model for car seats

At the middle of the century interest increased in the ergonomics of people at work. Their dimensions and the suitability of their posture and movement were scientifically investigated by orthopaedic and ergonomic experts, in order to find ways to avoid the stiff, right-angled pose and immobility of seated work. This led to new poses and new standing seats, balls, knee stools and other alternative seating devices. Until now only the swivel chair, on five castors, adjustable in all directions has caught on as standard in the office – the modern office chair.


Passion for collecting – the office as desk

The office shows its power as gathering point. It collects the most varied passions and their media. But they are not collected by the office as a space, rather by the office as a desk – as a burra or bureau. The desk is always adapted to the seating furniture such as chairs, benches, stools and kneeling chairs. The desk is the communicative surface that structures and gathers everything else. The chair and desk are the highly efficient basis that makes the desk into the centre of storage and administrative activities and to the centre of the company – the world. The desk is a fruitful level and people’s modern field.


Passion for communication – the open-plan office

As a result of the differentiation of productive work and the increase in service firms such as banks and consultancies, law firms, insurance companies and health insurance providers, as well as the increasing role of science in business administration, the thought developed in the second half of the twentieth century that the various structuring and storage tasks could be best carried out in a large, open-plan office. The impersonal, strongly hierarchical and vertically structured office rooms and the strict order of small administrative offices, which provide little motivation for workers and are in conflict with the modern understanding of work, were driven out: new ideas were inspired by the necessity to collaborate on a project as a team.

Teams are horizontally structured. This is expressed in the breadth and openness of large rooms. They create a good atmosphere and create a transparency of work. Open-plan offices have the advantage of workers seeing each other and being able to exchange ideas quickly. Open-plan offices are supposed to promote cooperation, diplomacy and communication, whilst workers should also be motivated.

Cooperation and team-work are also expressed in open-plan offices via the arrangement of the desks. Not a single desk is here the centre of the room, but rather the many desks forming numerous centres, with the room’s structure being formed by the scattered and equal working spaces. But after just a few years it became clear that the open-plan office had disadvantages in terms of working. The initial euphoria gave way to the reality that open-plan arrangements make concentration difficult due to the continuous passage of staff and customer through the room, they are noisy, offer few opportunities to adapt light, temperature and workspaces to individual preferences and provide little privacy.


Passion for innovation

Therefore, inside the open-plan office developed small, protected spaces. The idea of communication and team-work had nonetheless established itself. Aside from structuring the workspace, the social component which is a characteristic of open-plan offices helps to determine the office arrangement and structure of furnishing elements. The expansion of services, administrative activities and storage tasks means that every action – private as well as professional – had an associated office task. therefore, the twentieth century saw the development of varied office forms, such as group offices, cubicles, open-plan offices, two and more person offices, home offices and mini-offices. The /Cubical/ mini-office, developed by Robert Probst in 1968, is a fully furnished four metre square room. A large proportion of workers in the USA today work in this type of office. The variety of office forms creates the opportunity to select an office layout and furnishing which is characteristic for a company and suitable for its operations. This is important for work – which is an important part of life – because team-work, a pleasant working environment, good interaction between staff and adequate tools and media increase motivation among staff, keep people healthy and promote the success of the company. To pursue these paths remains one of the tasks for the office in the 21st century.




6. The digital office

The office of the 21th century


Office work as storage tasks

The digital office of the 21st century According to the theory of evolution, certain human characteristics are retained, passed on and developed, which explains how mankind is able to retain and develop its culture and cultural aspects, by transferring knowledge and know-how to subsequent generations and by manufacturing objects such as tools and everyday objects.

The concept of the cultural office was created as a means of preserving certain forms of human activity through signs and symbols. Technical and commercial activities such as the processes for manufacturing, marketing and selling goods are recorded and archived in the office.

In fact the first offices consisted of just a few tools and activities centred around a piece of cloth known as a burra. The word "office" actually stems from this burra fabric, the name of which formed the origins of the word "bureau", the table upon which the fabric was placed, which in turn then evolved further to describe the room in which the table is placed. It can be said therefore that there are always two elements that define an office – the space and the tools placed within it. In the modern world, all that is required to constitute an office is a laptop (the core of the modern office) and a mobile phone.


The office as a tool

In the offices of days gone by, commercial processes such as contractual agreements, drawing up a balance sheet and accounting were handwritten using a quill, ink and paper. It was not until later that typewriters and accounting machines were introduced. In 1806 Englishman Ralph Wedgewood patented a duplicating process using carbon paper, which was replaced just three decades ago by the invention of photocopiers and digital technology.

The 1980’s saw a revolution in terms of the tools we use and within two decades "digital" became the standard for office tools around the world. The new tools include photocopiers, fax machines, computers, mobile phones and the Internet. Their potential is huge thanks to their processing speeds, extensive storage capacity, significantly lower requirements in terms of working materials, computation of processes and radical improvements to communication processes. Text, tables, images and video can be easily edited and stored on disc, hard drive and DVD.

And it is also possible to network company PCs locally as well as with external PCs via the Internet. This networking concept means that large quantities of information can be sent around the world "in real time" and many other functions such as communication are also processed immediately.

The amount of furniture and equipment in the office is becoming less and less – although the digital age means that more technical equipment is required – and filing systems, folders, balance sheet books, dictionaries and other printed sources of reference are now less important as all of these can be accessed through a laptop.


The office as a space

As a result of globalisation and digitalisation, new activities have led to a paradigmatic change, with companies seeing a shift from the industrial era and moving more towards an era of service companies, knowledge and information. At a time when particular attention is paid to reducing the amount of materials we use, it is not just office tools that are changing, but spaces too. One of our future tasks is to design tools, spaces and processes that will unleash people’s emotional and intellectual potential on a global scale. Digitialisation is a feature of conventional offices but has also led to the creation of new office concepts such as the open office, which can move around from place to place, as well as the virtual office.

A large percentage of the many different types of office space that emerged in the 20th century, from the open-plan office to the mini office, will continue to exist in the 21st century, and many different types of office will sit alongside each other.


The structure of the digital office

Nowadays all the essential office equipment can be incorporated onto a tiny laptop. It is possible to access up-to-date company data from digital databases and essential work aids come in the form of digital encyclopaedias, electronic dictionaries and the Internet. Using a laptop, mobile phone, fax and mini printer facilitates contact and communication with customers and employees. Such is the potential of the modern office.

Regardless of their layout, digital offices use high-performance tools and are generally structured into areas for work, politics and ecology. They are an excellent means of working both locally and on a global level. Digital offices can function ecologically if they are set up with a view to optimising the energy resources for both the office and the office building, or where paperless environments are created, thereby saving on natural resources. They express advanced globalisation and can contribute towards preparing for a humane future.

As the digital office has developed into a knowledge centre and a hub on the World Wide Web, and since the tools have become extremely small and efficient, a new type of office – the open office – has emerged alongside traditional offices, where both space and time are flexible.


The open office – out and about with the office

Open offices are subordinates of the digital office. They are created by

replacing a PC with a laptop, which assimilates the functions of the room. The laptop acts as both a table and a repository, it can be carried around everywhere and can transform a basic space into a complete and remote office.

The open office embodies new tasks as well as new work processes. Digitalisation has freed office work from its fixed office hours, fixed locations and schematic work processes and has had a direct impact upon the structure of the office. Many of the computerised office activities have added impetus to designing office spaces that are both open and mobile.


The open office – laptop, solar panels and mountains

Open offices do not have a fixed spatial design. Most places and types of space can serve as an office. Wherever there is a laptop and mobile phone there can be an office – whether on a park bench, in the desert, in the countryside, on the beach, in a café or in the mountains.

Open offices do not have fixed working hours. In fact they do away with fixed working hours and thanks to their remote set-up and high-speed communication processes they can individually measure and reinvent processes.

Open offices do not have a fixed working structure. The work processes are modified depending on each individual situation. The speed and diversity of digital communications means that the priorities in terms of office processes can be individually defined and adapted according to personal preferences.


Special modern forms of office

Digitalisation means that offices can take on various forms – in virtual, temporary, utopic and austere places. The virtual office is an online portal where teams meet and carry out different working activities. They enable virtual conferences whereby all the participants are based at different locations. This also includes plug-and-play offices with a website, virtual warehouse and virtual sales team. Some companies offer these types of Internet portal, set them up and run them as though they are real offices.

Another form of office is the temporary office, which is ideal for when

different teams meet up regularly at different locations and need to hire rooms for a certain period of time. The office equipment usually only includes the essentials, giving these kind of offices a rather austere character.

Offices with fewer workstations than employees are known as desk-sharing offices where several employees share one workstation. These are practical solutions for companies whose employees are often travelling around, thereby providing them with open offices that offer a flexible approach to working hours and enable them to work from different locations.

Many unused areas both in and in between offices are now more closely integrated into everyday office life, providing space where employees can meet for informal and creative exchange in peaceful surroundings where they can feel inspired and motivated.

Time and time again we hear that "the office of the future is not fixed to one location". These types of office will exist, although they will only account for a small proportion since laptops are restrictive in terms of long-term working and are ergonomically inadequate. There will be no particular office that stands out as the most dominant in the 21st century, although the horizons of what constitutes an office have broadened. Offices have become hubs for social and global working and communication.


The office as a community and living space

While the office has been revolutionised as a tool, the office as a space has become more conservative, taking on a new structure for certain work phases, situations and tasks. One important element for working environments has not changed and that is the need for security, which is only now being expressed. This is where real offices are required, places where people can come into contact with each other. People do not necessarily want to work across many different locations and would rather convene and work together in one place. To

work in a team instead of working alone, to exchange ideas instead of working against each other, thereby maintaining a level of personal contact is and shall remain a motivating and stabilising factor of office work.

The more things develop and the smaller and leaner the tools become, the more space shall be left over for personalising the office. More and more people are saying that they want to feel comfortable at work. They are looking for an ambiance that is inspiring, motivating and healthy, in offices that are well designed and are comfortable thanks to climate control technology.

On the other hand the corporate office and its set-up also have an impact upon the individual and his privacy, since he would like a degree of domesticity in the office and at the same time have an office space with office equipment at home. This is why there is little difference in the design and equipment of trend furniture, home furniture and office furniture. The concept of the office is no longer just a matter of organising, calculating and filing, but it is rather a place for living, where communication and learning, conversation, services, responsibility and ambiance are all key.



© Hajo Eickhoff 2009



Hajo Eickhoff


Duisburger Straße 13

10707 Berlin

hajoeickhoff @ posteo.de

23. Oktober 2020

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