An office is generally a room or other area in which people work
Employment is a contract between two parties, one being the employer and the other being the employee. An employee may be defined as:- Employee :...

, but may also denote a position within an organization
An organization is a social group which distributes tasks for a collective goal. The word itself is derived from the Greek word organon, itself derived from the better-known word ergon - as we know `organ` - and it means a compartment for a particular job.There are a variety of legal types of...

 with specific duties attached to it (see officer, office-holder, official
An official is someone who holds an office in an organization or government and participates in the exercise of authority .A government official or functionary is an official who is involved in public...

); 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
In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....

, the term "office" may refer to business
A business is an organization engaged in the trade of goods, services, or both to consumers. Businesses are predominant in capitalist economies, where most of them are privately owned and administered to earn profit to increase the wealth of their owners. Businesses may also be not-for-profit...

-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
Storage silo
A silo is a structure for storing bulk materials. Silos are used in agriculture to store grain or fermented feed known as silage. Silos are more commonly used for bulk storage of grain, coal, cement, carbon black, woodchips, food products and sawdust. Three types of silos are in widespread use...

 rather than an office.

An office is an architectural and design phenomenon and a social phenomenon, whether it is a small office such as a bench in the corner of a "Mom and Pop
Small business
A small business is a business that is privately owned and operated, with a small number of employees and relatively low volume of sales. Small businesses are normally privately owned corporations, partnerships, or sole proprietorships...

 shop" of extremely small size (see small office/home office
Small office/home office
Small office/home office, or SOHO, refers to the category of business or cottage industry which involves from 1 to 10 workers. SOHO can also stand for single 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 worker
White-collar worker
The term white-collar worker refers to a person who performs professional, managerial, or administrative work, in contrast with a blue-collar worker, whose job requires manual labor...

s are employed.

History of offices

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
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, even partially reverting to illiteracy, while the East preserved a more sophisticated administrative culture, both under Byzantium and under Islam.

Offices in classical antiquity were often part of a palace complex or a large temple. There was usually a room where scroll
Scroll (parchment)
A scroll is a roll of papyrus, parchment, or paper which has been written, drawn or painted upon for the purpose of transmitting information or using as a decoration.-Structure:...

s were kept and scribe
A scribe is a person who writes books or documents by hand as a profession and helps the city keep track of its records. The profession, previously found in all literate cultures in some form, lost most of its importance and status with the advent of printing...

s 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.

Pre-Industrial Revolution

The High Middle Ages
High Middle Ages
The High Middle Ages was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries . The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the Late Middle Ages, which by convention end around 1500....

 (1000–1300) saw the rise of the medieval chancery
Chancery (medieval office)
Chancery is a general term for a medieval writing office, responsible for the production of official documents. The title of chancellor, for the head of the office, came to be held by important ministers in a number of states, and remains the title of the heads of government in modern Germany,...

, 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
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 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
Parchment is a thin material made from calfskin, sheepskin or goatskin, often split. Its most common use was as a material for writing on, for documents, notes, or the pages of a book, codex or manuscript. It is distinct from leather in that parchment is limed but not tanned; therefore, it is very...

. All kinds of writings seemed to be mixed in these early forms of offices. Before the invention of the printing press
Printing press
A printing press is a device for applying pressure to an inked surface resting upon a print medium , thereby transferring the ink...

 and its distribution there was often a very thin line between a private office and a private library
In a traditional sense, a library is a large collection of books, and can refer to the place in which the collection is housed. Today, the term can refer to any collection, including digital sources, resources, and services...

 since books were read or written in the same space at the same desk
A desk is a furniture form and a class of table often used in a work or office setting for reading or writing on or using a computer. Desks often have one or more drawers to store office supplies and papers. Unlike a regular table, usually only one side of a desk is suitable to sit on . Not all...

 or table
Table (furniture)
A table is a form of furniture with a flat and satisfactory horizontal upper surface used to support objects of interest, for storage, show, and/or manipulation...

, 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
Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey...

 appears to have first used the word in 1395 to mean a place where business is transacted in The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century. The tales are told as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at...


As Mercantilism
Mercantilism is the economic doctrine in which government control of foreign trade is of paramount importance for ensuring the prosperity and security of the state. In particular, it demands a positive balance of trade. Mercantilism dominated Western European economic policy and discourse from...

 became the dominant economic theory of the Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

, 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 by merchants to conduct their business, and there was a developing a distinction between church, government/military and commerce uses for buildings.

Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

 (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
Elisha Otis
Elisha Graves Otis was an American industrialist, founder of the Otis Elevator Company, and inventor of a safety device that prevents elevators from falling if the hoisting cable fails. He worked on this device while living in Yonkers, New York in 1852, and had a finished product in...

 saw the rapid escalation upward of buildings. By the end of the 19th century, larger office buildings frequently contained large glass atrium
Atrium may refer to:*Atrium , a large open space within a building usually with a glass roof*Atrium , microscopic air sacs in lungs*Atrium , an anatomical structure of the heart* Atrium of the ventricular system of the brain...

s to allow light into the complex and improve air circulation.

20th Century

By 1906, the Sears, Roebuck and Co opened their mail order and headquarters operation in a 3000000 square feet (278,709.1 m²) building in Chicago, at the time, the largest building in the world. The Time and motion study
Time and motion study
A time and motion study is a business efficiency technique combining the Time Study work of Frederick Winslow Taylor with the Motion Study work of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth . It is a major part of scientific management...

, pioneered in manufacturing by F. W. Taylor and later applied to the office environment by Frank
Frank Bunker Gilbreth
Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. was an early advocate of scientific management and a pioneer of motion study, but is perhaps best known as the father and central figure of Cheaper by the Dozen.- Biography :...

 and Lillian
Lillian Moller Gilbreth
Lillian Moller Gilbreth was an American psychologist and industrial engineer. One of the first working female engineers holding a Ph.D., she is arguably the first true industrial/organizational psychologist. She and her husband Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr...

 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 , which is needed to combat tedium linked to poor productivity, and to encourage creativity. In 1964, the Herman Miller (office equipment)
Herman Miller (office equipment)
Herman Miller, Inc., based in Zeeland, Michigan, is a major American manufacturer of office furniture and equipment, as well as furniture for the home. It is notable as one of the first companies to produce modern furniture and, under the guidance of Design Director George Nelson, is likely the...

 company engaged Robert Propst
Robert Propst
Robert Propst was the inventor of the Action Office that evolved into the cubicle office furniture system.Robert Propst was from Colorado and worked for Herman Miller in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he was hired in 1958 by Herman Miller Inc...

, a prolific industrial designer, who came up with the concept of the Action Office
Action Office
The Action Office is a series of furniture designed by Robert Propst, and sold by Herman Miller. First introduced in 1964 as the Action Office I product line, then superseded by the Action Office II series, it is an influential design in the history of “contract furniture”...

 which later evolved into the cubicle
Тhe cubicle, cubicle desk, office cubicle or cubicle workstation is a partially enclosed workspace, separated from neighboring workspaces by partitions that are usually tall...

 office furniture system.

Office spaces

The main purpose of an 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. For new, or developing businesses, remote satellite offices and project rooms, Serviced Offices can provide a simple solution and provide all of the former types of space.

Work 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

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 people; 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

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

Office structure

There are many different ways of arranging the space in an office and whilst these vary according to function, managerial fashion
Fashion, a general term for a currently popular style or practice, especially in clothing, foot wear, or accessories. Fashion references to anything that is the current trend in look and dress up of a person...

s 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
Open plan
Open plan is the generic term used in architectural and interior design for any floor plan which makes use of large, open spaces and minimizes the use of small, enclosed rooms such as private offices...

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
A project in business and science is typically defined as a collaborative enterprise, frequently involving research or design, that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim. Projects can be further defined as temporary rather than permanent social systems that are constituted by teams...

. 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
Dilbert is an American comic strip written and drawn by Scott Adams. First published on April 16, 1989, Dilbert is known for its satirical office humor about a white-collar, micromanaged office featuring the engineer Dilbert as the title character...

 cartoon series, which solves visual privacy to some extent, but often fails on acoustic separation and security. Most cubicle
Тhe cubicle, cubicle desk, office cubicle or cubicle workstation is a partially enclosed workspace, separated from neighboring workspaces by partitions that are usually tall...

s 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

Office buildings

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 (e.g. light levels must be sufficient) or technical (e.g. requirements for computer networking). Alongside such other requirements such as security and flexibility of layout, this has led to the creation of special building
In architecture, construction, engineering, real estate development and technology the word building may refer to one of the following:...

s which are dedicated only or primarily for use as offices. An office building, also known as an office block or business centre is a form of commercial building
Commercial building
A commercial building is a building that is used for commercial use. Types can include office buildings, warehouses, or retail . In urban locations, a commercial building often combines functions, such as an office on levels 2-10, with retail on floor 1...

 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. Many office spaces are now also serviced office spaces, which means that those occupying a space or building can share facilities.

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
Building Owners and Managers Association
The Building Owners and Managers Association , founded in 1907, is a professional organization for commercial real estate professionals and is the oldest and largest in its field. Its membership includes building owners, managers, developers, leasing professionals, medical office building managers,...

 (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."


  • Business park
    Business park
    A business park or office park is an area of land in which many office buildings are grouped together. All of the work that goes on is commercial, not industrial or residential....

  • Corner office
    Corner office
    A corner office is an office that is located in the corner of a building. Corner offices are considered desirable because they have windows on two exterior walls, as opposed to a typical office with only one window or none at all...

  • Executive suite
    Executive suite
    An executive suite is a set of individual offices sublet from a larger suite of offices. The executive suite proprietor rents entire floors and leases the smaller office spaces or workstations to businesses that don't need, or can't afford, large space. Some executive suite landlords offer...

  • Factory
    A factory or manufacturing plant is an industrial building where laborers manufacture goods or supervise machines processing one product into another. Most modern factories have large warehouses or warehouse-like facilities that contain heavy equipment used for assembly line production...

  • Office supplies
    Office supplies
    Office supplies is the generic term that refers to all supplies regularly used in offices by businesses and other organizations, from private citizens to governments, who work with the collection, refinement, and output of information .The term includes small, expendable, daily use items such as...

  • Over-illumination
    Over-illumination is the presence of lighting intensity beyond that required for a specified activity. Over-illumination was commonly ignored between 1950 and 1995, especially in office and retail environments; only since then has the interior design community begun to reconsider this practice.The...

  • Serviced office
  • Steel Buildings
  • Warehouse
    A warehouse is a commercial building for storage of goods. Warehouses are used by manufacturers, importers, exporters, wholesalers, transport businesses, customs, etc. They are usually large plain buildings in industrial areas of cities and towns. They usually have loading docks to load and unload...

Soft issues

  • Office etiquette
  • Office gossip
    Office Gossip
    Office Gossip is a British sitcom that aired on BBC One in 2001. Starring Pauline Quirke, it was written by Paul Mayhew-Archer, who co-wrote The Vicar of Dibley, and George Pritchett....

  • Office manager
  • Office politics
    Office politics
    Workplace politics, sometimes referred to as Office politics is "the use of one's individual or assigned power within an employing organization for the purpose of obtaining advantages beyond one's legitimate authority...

  • Online office suite
  • Sick building syndrome
    Sick building syndrome
    Sick building syndrome is a combination of ailments associated with an individual's place of work or residence. A 1984 World Health Organization report into the syndrome suggested up to 30% of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be linked to symptoms of SBS...

Further reading

  • Juriaan van Meel, Yuri Martens, Hermen Jan van Ree. Planning Office Spaces: a practical guide for manager and designers. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2010.
  • Adams, Scott. What do you call a sociopath in a cubicle? (answer, a coworker) Kansas City, Missouri: Andrews McMeel Pub., 2002.
  • Duffy, Francis. Colin Cave. John Worthington, editors. Planning Office Space. London: The Architectural Press Ltd., 1976.
  • Klein, Judy Graf. The Office Book. New York: Facts on File Inc., 1982.
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