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The origins of new ways of working: Office concepts in the 1970s

Juriaan van Meel (Centre for Facilities Management – Realdania Research, Technical University of Denmark, Kongens Lyngby, Denmark)


ISSN: 0263-2772

Article publication date: 5 July 2011




The purpose of this paper is to describe the origins of today's new office concepts, focusing on the emergence of mobile and flexible working practices in the 1960s and 1970s. Thereby it intends to add a sense of historical awareness to the ongoing debate about the work environment.


The historical description is based on literature study, looking at research reports, design handbooks and depictions of office life in popular culture such as movies and advertisements.


The paper demonstrates that today's “new ways of working” are by no means new. It shows that the concepts of mobile offices, paperless offices, videoconferencing and flexible workplaces all originate from the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s. It also shows that these concepts were far from mainstream, standing in stark contrast to the rigidity and conservatism of everyday office life at the time.

Research limitations/implications

This paper is the first result of a larger historical analysis of the recent history of the work environment. Further historical research will add to the presented insight in the evolution of office concepts.

Practical implications

The paper's insight into the historical development of office concepts can help workplace strategists to make better, more careful forecasts of future workplace trends.


Whereas most literature on the office concept tends to look at novel ideas and future developments, this paper looks back at the recent past. It discusses early workplace experiments that have been largely ignored, or remained unidentified, in much of the discourse on new ways of working.



van Meel, J. (2011), "The origins of new ways of working: Office concepts in the 1970s", Facilities, Vol. 29 No. 9/10, pp. 357-367.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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