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This article is about traditional meanings of the word office. For the computer office applications suite, see Microsoft Office.

An office is a room or other area in which people work, but may also denote a position within an organisation with specific duties attached to it (see officer, office-holder, official); 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, the term office may refer to business-related tasks.

An office is an architectural and design phenomenon and a social phenomenon, whether it is a tiny office such as a bench in the corner of a "Mom and Pop shop" of extremely small size (see SOHO) 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 workers are employed during the day.


History of offices

Offices in classical antiquity where often part of a palace complex or a large temple. There was usually a room where scrolls were kept and scribes 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 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. All kinds of writings seemed to be mixed in these early forms of offices. Before the invention of the printing press and its distribution there was often a very thin line between a private office and a private library since books were read or written in the same space at the same desk or table, and general accounting and personal or private letters were also done there.

The medieval chancery was usually the place where most government letters were written and were 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 did not change these early government offices much.

Space arrangement in offices

There are many different ways of arranging the space in an office and whilst these vary according to function, managerial fashions 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 office can be made up of one main room with tens or hundreds of people working in the same space. Open plan offices which put multiple workers together in the same space and some studies in particular areas have shown that they give short term productivity, for example within a single software project. 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 cartoon series, which solves visual privacy to some extent, but often fails on acoustic separation and security.

Office buildings

Whilst 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 (light levels must be sufficient, for example) or technical (requirements for networking). Along side such other requirements such as security and flexibility of layout, this has lead to the creation of special buildings which are dedicated only or primarily for use as offices. An office building (also called an office block) is a form of commercial building which contains spaces mainly designed to 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, PC's 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.

Standard facilities in modern office buildings

  • water
  • electricity (distribution through entire office space with many separate points)
  • private branch exchange
  • optical connections to local telecommunications providers
  • parking (often underground under the office)
  • structured cabling (category 5 or better) for internal networking and telecommunications

Smoking in office buildings

Gradually, smoking is becoming restricted within large offices and other work spaces in most countries. Sometimes smoking is allowed in this case but is confined to an area clearly defined as a smoking room. Depending on the culture and the business occupying the building, smokers may be allowed to smoke inside the building at all. In the case of an office buildings this can lead to a large interconnected area where smoking is disallowed. In this case, smokers are forced either to not smoke all day or, more commonly, to leave the buildings for short periods of time. Depending on the climate of the surrounding area and the particular weather on that day, this may be an unpleasant experience. In some cases smokers may have some form of shelter outside the building to use when they want a cigarette.

See also


  • 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.

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45