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2 minute read / Jan 31, 2023 /

The Future of Startup Office

100 years ago, fluorescent lamps & suspended ceilings topped the list of hottest trends in office design. In 1928, San Antonio’s Milam Building claimed the honor of the first office skyscraper with air conditioning.

Twenty-five years later, window-encased skyscrapers with internal glass walls distinguished the modern office. Employees ensconced in the Lever House & the Seagram Building in New York enjoyed more daylight at work than any other Manhattanite.

Another generation would pass before the open office plan bulldozed walls separating managers & employees. Robert Probst conceived & George Nelson designed the Action Office - the iconic aluminum, wooden veneer, & black plastic desks of the 1980s.

Within a decade, the Action Office evolved into the cubicle, wrapping white-collars in a warren of workspaces. Before the millennium’s end, 40 million cubes dotted the American urban landscape.

In the late 90s, startups in Silicon Valley eschewed the grown-up Legos for more frugal & more dynamic tables.

Each of these major shifts occurred because of some underlying societal or management philosophy change. Frederick Taylor, the original productivity-maxi, discovered employees’ productivity surged in better conditions, leading to air conditions.

White-collar, a term coined by Upton Sinclair, delivered initially as an insult, required employers to raise the stature of paper-pushers, luring them with increasingly beautiful workspaces - the skyscrapers of the 1920s.

Startups’ desire for speed sounded the death knell for the cubicle. No walls meant the kinetic energy of new ideas translated immediately into Brownian-motion implementation: a sales person could yell two rows over to a product manager, relaying a customer’s request for an item on the roadmap.

Cubed is a history of the office & how employers evolved to attract, retain, & encourage employees.

It’s a riveting little book that weaves societal & political backdrop into the evolution of the workspace & provokes questions about what the office will become in the next decade with WFH rationalization atop every employers’ mind.

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