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Century of the Office: 1980-1999

Century of the Office: 1980-1999

From massive mobile phones to the birth of the web ΓÇô this week weΓÇÖre taking a look at what it was like to work in the office during the 1980s and 1990s.

Welcome to the office ΓÇô 1980-1999

Ah, cubicles! Yes, they might have been invented in the 1960s, but the 1980s was the heyday of the cubicle office. Large open-plan offices, which came to be known as ΓÇ£cube farmsΓÇ¥, were divided up by walls to create individual workspaces and, unfortunately, isolating workers from one another in the process. This trend in office space design continued well into the 1990s, making the workplace a maze of grey temporary walling for much of this period.

Fortunately, office workers had something to liven up their cubicle-bound days. Desktop computers started to appear during the 1980s and by the late 1990s they would be commonplace for almost all office workers. For the most part, this meant PCs, not laptops ΓÇô and they tended to take up a lot more desk space than our lean LCD screens today. Remember these huge computer monitors?

Health and safety also continued to have an increasing impact on the office environment, with new guidance issued in 1992 to address a number of modern office issues including working with computer screens, lighting levels, and seating arrangements.


ItΓÇÖs all about tech during this period. Office workersΓÇÖ lives get considerably easier ΓÇô although also more frantic ΓÇô thanks to a plethora of new tech developments which make their way into the office.

Communications in particular became much faster. And it wasnΓÇÖt just the brick-sized mobile phones (1G technology was launched in the mid-1980s in the UK). By the 1990s, the birth of the World Wide Web, followed by the invention of the first pre-Google search engines made it easier for office workers to find a wide range of work-related information. Meanwhile email, invented back in 1972, finally made it into the mainstream in 1992.

Computers also came on leaps and bounds during this period, from the black and green screens of the 80s, to full colour by the 90s. To help inexperienced computer users, Apple launched the Mackintosh Mouse in 1984, as a solution to remembering all those keyboard shortcuts. But not everyone was convinced by this new device, with some describing it as ΓÇ£of little useΓÇ¥.

By the 1990s, video conferencing technology also became widely available ΓÇô at least for larger companies ΓÇô enabling office workers to hold meetings with people and companies on the other side of the globe.


The number of women in the office continues to rise ΓÇô but that isnΓÇÖt the only change in the workforce during this era. As personal cars become the norm, most people expect (and accept) that they need to commute a reasonable distance to the office. This results in a workforce which is drawn from a wider geographical area than in previous decades.

Next week: the Google years…

Next week we head into the Google era ΓÇô where social media reigns supreme, and the office begins to change shape once more.

Remember the office during the 1980s or 1990s? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Image of the Krause Publications offices in 1983 by Alan Light via Flickr

Catch up with our Century of the Office Series so far:

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Author: | June 11, 2013 | 0 Comments

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