The Impressive Evolution of the Office Workplace — From the 80s to Today

by Jane Duncan, freelance writer

Oct 5 2021

3.9 million employees in the United States spend most of their days working away from the office nowadays. However, when it comes to the physical office workspace of today (for those who do still make the daily commute), there have been a number of major changes when compared to the offices of the 80s.
From the physical desk space to office technology, and even the evolution of women in the workplace, here’s how the office of the 80s has changed when compared with today.
1980s Office with men operating a computer

How desk space has changed

An employee’s office desk space is yet another difference between offices of today and those of the 80s, as back then, productivity was greatly prioritised — hence the thought behind the common, drab cubicles, which were thought to bring out the best in workers in terms of productivity and efficiency.
Today, however, productivity is still just as much of a priority — though it’s definitely evolved quite a bit when it comes to the actual desk space.
For example, in many work spaces, furniture that has good ergonomics is often taken into consideration where it might not have been before; such as chairs that properly support the back. Not only does this help to increase an employee’s comfort and aid in boosting productivity levels, but it fosters a career without having to deal with pain. And, instead of cubicles, many workplaces now opt for open plan seating when shooting for productivity and collaboration goals.

Women in the workplace

When it comes to women in the workplace back in the 1980s, it’s safe to say that there were a lot of differences, especially since the decade marked a turning point for many women in what used to be such a male dominated industry.
One major mile-marker includes the fact that women began to vocalise their concerns without fear of losing their jobs, thanks to the term “sexual harassment in the workplace” becoming a much more common term in the 80s (despite it being first coined back in 1975).
Today, sexual harassment is taken very seriously, and holds consequences for those responsible. However, it’s important to realise that although women were making headway in some aspects in the 80s, the average woman earned a mere 64% of what men were paid — highlighting that the wage gap is something that women have struggled with for some time, as they still do today. 
Steve Jobs with an Apple Macintosh computer in 1984

Steve Jobs leaning on an Apple Macintosh computer in 1984

Office technology

Of course, office technology has come a long way too. With high tech in an 80s office including desktop PCs (such as the Commodore 64 and Macintosh 128k), as well as fax machines and printers, it’s safe to say that offices resembled today’s workspaces in the most basic of forms. With smartphones, laptops, tablets, smart projectors and more ruling the workplace of today, allowing businesses to do more in regards to technology and do so more efficiently. Not only that, but work can now be done from anywhere with an internet connection, giving rise to work from home methods.

There’s no question that the workplace of today only vaguely resembles that of the 1980s, highlighting just how far we’ve come — especially when it comes to how we get work done. From the obvious technology upgrades to innovative solutions that don’t involve cubicles, the 80s have undoubtedly paved the way to work as we know it today.