24/10/2018 15:12 BST | Updated 25/10/2018 11:10 BST

The Remarkable History Of The Work Office – And The Future

The office continues to evolve, and in the 21st century, technology has rendered it as mobile as we are.

Marc_Osborne via Getty Images

If you’re an historian charting the history of the office, it’s tricky to know where exactly to begin. Medieval monks copied and studied manuscripts in rooms designed specifically for that purpose. Could we call that an office? The Uffizi Gallery in Florence was originally the administrative HQ of the Medici’s mercantile empire, and would certainly seem to qualify for what we call an office.

But if we’re thinking about office in the modern sense, as a place we go to distinct from our own homes, and where we tend to work for an allotted period of time, it’s the Industrial Revolution, and the huge expansion in production and trade it brought with it, that tends to mark the office’s beginning.

Office space

In the early 18th century, the East India Company built one of the first purpose-built offices in London’s Leadenhall Street. It established the kind of workspace we might recognise, stocked full of clerks dealing with paperwork. But this basic structure, of people working as a cog in a much larger machine made up of tasks and responsibilities, is still with us today, contained in vertiginous towers of metal and glass that spread out across city skylines the world over.

Leadenhall Street now, Credit: Getty Images

Tech arrives

Possibly the biggest change to office life was aided by the exponential advancement of technology (not least Wi-Fi now being prevalent, enabling agile working in breakout spaces or hotels). The arrival of the internet and the digitisation of the workplace has profoundly blurred the boundaries of what we perceive to be the office.

Global connections

When your marketplace is global, your office needs to be global too. That doesn’t necessarily mean having HQs set up in London, Tokyo and New York, which obviously require a lot of capital.

Instead what we’re seeing is a lot more business travel than we did one and two generations ago, with companies making use of the kind of workspaces offered by the likes of hotels.

Modern hotels offer the perfect working environment as they seamlessly blend productivity and downtime for their customers. At Crowne Plaza® Hotels & Resorts the advantages are obvious; free WI-FI for guests, bespoke break out spaces, quiet zones and fully serviced conference rooms designed for gatherings as small as half a dozen or as large as 200, providing flexibility no matter what size the business.

With dedicated Crowne Plaza Meetings Directors to look after all your needs, Crowne Plaza have the ‘off site meeting’ bases covered and are also ideally situated for exploring the local sites after a long day at the ‘office’.

“Many businesses that either aren’t ready to make the leap to global HQs, or see less and less value in them, prefer pop-up offices or hotels as the best places to conduct their face-to-face business,” says Daniel Moore, a tech expert. “With the rise of virtual office spaces and the kinds of technology that allow you to set up just about anywhere, this trend is only going to rise.”

puhhha via Getty Images

The virtual office

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are starting to push the definition of what constitutes an office. AR provides businesses with new ways to present their ideas and products, while VR conferences are already happening, with people represented by avatars logging in from all over the world to meet and talk. In OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) technology, the ability to project images onto any surface and interact with them is fast approaching.

This means your computer screen and keyboard could themselves be mere projections, and combined with access to cloud servers your mobile office is complete. It’s no wonder that the modern business traveller is perfectly set-up to work remotely. 

“Another thing it’s worth remembering is that the routine of the office can become quite dull, even oppressive,” says Daniel. “People thrive on change, on being in new and novel places, and this makes employees more creative and more productive. Taken together with the financial overheads involved in securing office space, the future of the office is certainly going to be more mobile. Think of it as hot-desking, but with an entire office instead.”

One thing is for certain: wherever the future of the office is headed, be it on the move via digital devices, or through dedicated spaces in state-of-the-art hotels around the world, we’ve come a long way from that first office in London’s Leadenhall Street. 

Business travel is changing and so are we. At Crowne Plaza, we’re challenging the preconceptions of a ‘boring’ business hotel through a fresh and bold guest experience. Learn more.

To find out more about how Crowne Plaza is changing the face of modern business travel, or to book a room, visit crowneplaza.com/businessmostly.