Century of the Office: 1950s & 1960s
Are you ready for a whirlwind of change? WeΓÇÖre continuing our look at the history of the office with a peek into what it was like to work in the office in the 1950s and 1960s.
The post-war period was an era of rising prosperity and consumerism ΓÇô that rapidly changing world outside was reflected inside the office environment too.
Welcome to the office of the 50s & 60s
As weΓÇÖve said, these two decades were an era of considerable change for the office. Starting in the 1950s, cellular offices comprising pods of between one and six workers were the norm for most workplaces.
However, by the 1960s, open plan offices become popular, largely due to the way that they improved communication flow. Having more than twenty workstations per open plan space wasnΓÇÖt unusual and you might even find management working alongside their staff (although they usually got the larger corner desks).
Offices also became much lighter and brighter, thanks to electric strip lighting, lighter furniture and modern office blocks which were built with large windows to let in plenty of natural light.
Although the office layout was starting to resemble how we work today, the flexible office and working arrangements of the twenty-first century were still a long way off. Long-term commitment to office space was usual and most businesses either owned their offices or had a long-term lease.
This is the era when office technology begins to take off ΓÇô and it starts to resemble the offices we work in today.
The photocopier was invented during the 1950s and gradually came into widespread usage throughout this period, while communications got a boost in 1964 when Xerox patented the first commercial fax machine.
The 1960s also saw the invention of the first touchpad phone, although rotary dial phones remained the more popular choice well into the 1970s. While weΓÇÖre on a roll, the humble typewriter also got an upgrade with the appearance, in 1961, of IBMΓÇÖs Selectric electric typewriter. There was no desktop printer though ΓÇô if you needed multiple copies of a letter, you had to feed the Selectric with carbon paper.
Most exciting of all, in 1962 the first computers start to appear in big companies, although they too wonΓÇÖt become mainstream desktop equipment for another few decades.
During the 1950s, office workers worked on average 30% more hours than the typical office worker today. The average working week was between forty and forty-eight hours, while the average holiday entitlement was just sixteen days per year ΓÇô a whole twelve days less than the minimum today.
On the earnings front, an average office workerΓÇÖs salary was ┬ú14 per week (or around ┬ú728 per year), while a family home could be bought for around ┬ú2,000 and a new family car would have cost around ┬ú400. By 1966, the average office worker was earning almost double their 1950s salary, picking up between ┬ú1,000 and ┬ú1,400 per year.
Big improvements ΓÇô but whatΓÇÖs next?
The office saw big improvements during this period, with office workers in the 1960s enjoying a much more technology-led and well-paid working life than they did in the 1950s. But of course, this was all set to change again in the 1970sΓÇª
Did you work in an office in the 1950s or 1960s? WeΓÇÖd love to hear from you. Share your memories and experiences in the comments below.
Image of an office in 1959 by Seattle Municipal Archives via Flickr. (Note the less regimented desk layout.)
Catch up with our Century of the Office series: