An office is generally a room or other area in which people work, but may also denote a position within an organization with specific duties attached to it (see officer, office-holder, official); the latter is in fact an earlier usage, office as place originally referring to the location of one's duty. When used as an adjective, the term "office" may refer to business-related tasks. In legal writing, a company or organization has offices in any place that it has an official presence, even if that presence consists of, for example, a storage silo rather than an office.
An office is an architectural and design phenomenon and a social phenomenon, whether it is a tiny office such as a bench in the corner of a "Mom and Pop shop" of extremely small size (see small office/home office) through entire floors of buildings up to and including massive buildings dedicated entirely to one company. In modern terms an office usually refers to the location where white-collar workers are employed.
History of offices
A typical North American office
The structure and shape of the office is impacted by both management thought as well as construction materials. The word stems from the Latin officium, as its equivalents in various mainly romance languages and may or may not have walls or barriers as defined by Turlach Murphy (Wing half back for Rostrevor). Interestingly, this was not necessarily a place, but rather an often mobile 'bureau' in the sense of a human staff or even the abstract notion of a formal position, such as a magistrature. The relatively elaborate Roman bureaucracy would not be equaled for centuries in the West after the fall of Rome, even partially reverting to illiteracy, while the East preserved a more sophisticated administrative culture, both under Byzantium and under Islam.
Office buildings found in the crowded streets of Bangkok, Thailand.
Offices in classical antiquity were often part of a palace complex or a large temple. There was usually a room where scrolls were kept and scribes did their work. Ancient texts mentioning the work of scribes allude to the existence of such "offices". These rooms are sometimes called "libraries" by some archaeologists and the general press because one often associates scrolls with literature. In fact they were true offices since the scrolls were meant for record keeping and other management functions such as treaties and edicts, and not for writing or keeping poetry or other works of fiction.
The High Middle Ages (1000–1300) saw the rise of the medieval chancery, which was usually the place where most government letters were written and where laws were copied in the administration of a kingdom. The rooms of the chancery often had walls full of pigeonholes, constructed to hold rolled up pieces of parchment for safekeeping or ready reference, a precursor to the book shelf. The introduction of printing during the Renaissance did not change these early government offices much.
Pre-industrial illustrations such as paintings or tapestries often show us personalities or eponyms in their private offices, handling record keeping books or writing on scrolls of parchment. All kinds of writings seemed to be mixed in these early forms of offices. Before the invention of the printing press and its distribution there was often a very thin line between a private office and a private library since books were read or written in the same space at the same desk or table, and general accounting and personal or private letters were also done there.
It was during the 13th century that the English form of the word first appeared when referring to a position involving duties (ex. the office of the …). Geoffrey Chaucer appears to have first used the word in 1395 to mean a place where business is transacted in The Canterbury Tales.
As Mercantilism became the dominant economic theory of the Renaissance, merchants tended to conduct their business in the same buildings, which might include retail sales, warehousing and clerical work. During the 15th century, population density in many cities reached the point where stand-alone buildings were used my merchants to conduct their business, and there was a developing a distinction between church, government/military and commerce uses for buildings.
An office in 1903, equipped with speaking tubes.
The Industrial Revolution (18th and 19th century) saw the rise of banking, railroads, insurance, retailing, oil, and the telegraph industries. To transact business, an increasing large number of clerks were needed to handle order-processing, accounting, and file documents, with increasingly specialized office space required to house these activities. Most of the desks of the era were top heavy with paper storage bins extending above the desk-work area, giving the appearance of a cubical and offering the workers some degree of privacy.
The relative high price of land in the central core of cities lead to the first multi-story buildings, which were limited to about 10 stories until the use of iron and steel allowed for higher structures. The invention of the safety elevator in 1850 by Elisha Otis saw the rapid escalation upward of buildings.
By 1906, the Sears, Roebuck and Co opened their mail order and headquarters operation in a 3,000,000-square-foot (280,000 m2) building in Chicago, at the time, the largest building in the world. The Time and motion study, pioneered in manufacturing by F. W. Taylor and later applied to the office environment by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, lead to the idea that managers needed to play an active role in directing the work of subordinates. As a result, in 1915, the Equitable Life Insurance Company in New York City introduced the “Modern Efficiency Desk” with a flat top and drawers below, designed to allow managers an easy view of the workers. This led to a demand for a large square footages per floor in buildings, and a return to the open spaces that were seen in pre-industrial revolution buildings.
However, by the midpoint of the 20th century, it became apparent that an efficient office required discretion in the control of privacy with is needed to combat tedium linked to poor productivity, and to encourage creativity. In 1964, the Herman Miller (office equipment) company engaged Robert Propst, a prolific industrial designer, who came up with the concept of the Action Office which later evolved into the cubicle office furniture system.
The main purpose of a office environment is to support its occupants in performing their job - preferably at minimum cost and to maximum satisfaction. With different people performing different tasks and activities, however, it is not always easy to select the right office spaces. To aid decision-making in workplace and office design, one can distinguish three different types of office spaces: work spaces, meeting spaces and support spaces.
Work spaces in an office are typically used for conventional office activities such as reading, writing and computer work. There are nine generic types of work space, each supporting different activities.
Open office - An open work space for more than ten people, suitable for activities which demand frequent communication or routine activities which need relatively little concentration
Team space - A semi-enclosed work space for two to eight people; suitable for teamwork which demands frequent internal communication and a medium level of concentration
Cubicle - A semi-enclosed work space for one person, suitable for activities which demand medium concentration and medium interaction
Private office - An enclosed work space for one person, suitable for activities which are confidential, demand a lot of concentration or include many small meetings
Shared office - An enclosed work space for two or three people, suitable for semi-concentrated work and collaborative work in small groups
Team room - An enclosed work space for four to ten people; suitable for teamwork which may be confidential and demands frequent internal communication
Study booth - An enclosed work space for one person; suitable for short-term activities which demand concentration or confidentiality
Work lounge - A lounge-like work space for two to six people; suitable for short-term activities which demand collaboration and/or allow impromptu interaction
Touch down - An open work space for one person; suitable for short-term activities which require little concentration and low interaction
Meeting spaces in an office are typically used interactive processes, be it quick conversations or intensive brainstorms. There are six generic types of meeting space, each supporting different activities.
Small meeting room - An enclosed meeting space for two to four persons, suitable for both formal and informal interaction
Large meeting room - An enclosed meeting space for five to twelve people, suitable for formal interaction
Small meeting space - An open or semi-open meeting space for two to four persons; suitable for short, informal interaction
Large meeting space - An open or semi-open meeting space for five to twelve people; suitable for short, informal interaction
Brainstorm room - An enclosed meeting space for five to twelve persons; suitable for brainstorming sessions and workshops
Meeting point - An open meeting point for two to four persons; suitable for ad hoc, informal meetings
Support spaces in an office are typically used for secondary activities such as filing documents or taking a break. There are twelve generic types of support space, each supporting different activities.
Filing space - An open or enclosed support space for the storage of frequently used files and documents
Storage space - An open or enclosed support space for the storage of commonly used office supplies
Print and copy area - An open or enclosed support space with facilities for printing, scanning and copying
Mail area - An open or semi-open support space where employees can pick up or deliver their personal mail
Pantry area - An open or enclosed support space where people can get coffee and tea as well as soft drinks and snacks
Break area - A semi-open or enclosed support space where employees can take a break from their work
Locker area - An open or semi-open support space where employees can store their personal belongings
Smoking room - An enclosed support space where employees can smoke a cigarette
Library - A semi-open or enclosed support space for reading of books, journals and magazines
Games room - An enclosed support space where employees can play games (e.g. computer games, pool, darts)
Waiting area - An open or semi-open support space where visitors can be received and can wait for their appointment
Circulation space - Support space which is required for circulation on office floors, linking all major functions
There are many different ways of arranging the space in an office and whilst these vary according to function, managerial fashions and the culture of specific companies can be even more important. Choices include, how many people will work within the same room. At one extreme, each individual worker will have their own room; at the other extreme a large open plan office can be made up of one main room with tens or hundreds of people working in the same space. Open plan offices put multiple workers together in the same space, and some studies have shown that they can improve short term productivity, i.e. within a single software project. At the same time, the loss of privacy and security can increase the incidence of theft and loss of company secrets. A type of compromise between open plan and individual rooms is provided by the cubicle, possibly made most famous by the Dilbert cartoon series, which solves visual privacy to some extent, but often fails on acoustic separation and security. Most cubicles also require the occupant to sit with their back towards anyone who might be approaching; workers in walled offices almost always try to position their normal work seats and desks so that they can see someone entering, and in some instances, install tiny mirrors on things such as computer monitors.
While offices can be built in almost any location in almost any building, some modern requirements for offices make this more difficult. These requirements can be both legal (i.e. light levels must be sufficient) or technical (i.e. requirements for computer networking). Alongside such other requirements such as security and flexibility of layout, this has led to the creation of special buildings which are dedicated only or primarily for use as offices. An office building, also known as an office block, is a form of commercial building which contains spaces mainly designed to be used for offices.
The primary purpose of an office building is to provide a workplace and working environment primarily for administrative and managerial workers. These workers usually occupy set areas within the office building, and usually are provided with desks, PCs and other equipment they may need within these areas.
An office building will be divided into sections for different companies or may be dedicated to one company. In either case, each company will typically have a reception area, one or several meeting rooms, singular or open-plan offices, as well as toilets.
Many office buildings also have kitchen facilities and a staff room, where workers can have lunch or take a short break.
Office and retail rental rates
Rental rates for office and retail space are typically quoted in terms of money per floor-area–time, usually money per floor-area–year. For example, the rate for a particular property may be 290 dollars per square-meter–year ($290/m2·a) (or $29/ft2·a), and rates in the area could range $200/m2·a–$500/m2·a.
In many countries, rent is typically paid monthly even if usually discussed in terms of years.
Example: A particular 200 m2 space is priced at $150/m2·a: (200 m2) × ($150/m2·a) / (12 mo/a) = $2500/month
In a gross lease, the rate quoted is an all-inclusive rate. One pays a set amount of rent per time and the landlord is responsible for all other expenses such as costs of utilities, taxes, insurance, maintenance, and repairs.
The triple net lease is one in which the tenant is liable for a share of various expenses such as property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, climate control, repairs, janitorial services and landscaping.
The Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA) classifies office space into three categories: Class A, Class B, and Class C. According to BOMA, Class A office buildings have the "most prestigious buildings competing for premier office users with rents above average for the area." BOMA states that Class A facilities have "high quality standard finishes, state of the art systems, exceptional accessibility and a definite market presence." BOMA describes Class B office buildings as those that compete "for a wide range of users with rents in the average range for the area." BOMA states that Class B buildings have "adequate systems" and finishes that "are fair to good for the area," but that the buildings do not compete with Class A buildings for the same prices. According to BOMA Class C buildings are aimed towards "tenants requiring functional space at rents below the average for the area."