The office through the decades: The 2000s

John Fogarty is our recently retired Director of Design. In an industry career spanning five decades he has witnessed wholesale changes to office life. Drawing on this experience he has created for us a decade-by-decade series on the subject; next the 2000s

The decade when the appearance of Wi-Fi first alerted us to the potential of an office world devoid of the restrictions of data cabling. At the 2001 Spectrum exhibition Bisley showed a wholly wireless working scheme, comprising small footprint BONUS storage docks (presaging the development of the less-paper office) and lightweight mobile tables. Sadly we were way ahead of the curve - and all I can recall is visitors telling me that they would never entrust their organisations’ data to the (apparently insecure) medium of a wireless network!!!

Bisley 2001 Spectrum stand, all BONUS wireless docks and mobile tables (a bit too far ahead of its time?)

What was however universally adopted during the decade was the concept of free-address working and hoteling; as organizations embraced the idea that staff were able to work from non-assigned workstations and in multiple locations. This resulted in the development of the office “bench” as the preferred workstation type, particularly in the then booming financial services sector.  It also led to a growth in demand for better quality, “front office” lockers, to provide this newly peripatetic office population with somewhere to store their files and personal effects at non-assigned locations. 

Perhaps because of the sheer dominance of this shared furniture resource, the colour palette became extremely “safe” and monochrome throughout the decade; comprising large swathes of white, broken up only by patches of grey, silver and black. 

Task seating products - with their grey, natural aluminium or black frames and pellicle textile upholstery - did little or nothing to relieve the generally drab office environments this produced. 

Certainly in Europe, floor-standing divider screens pretty much disappeared altogether; being replaced by visor screens between banks of benches - with natural or monochrome powder-coated aluminium frames where they doubled as support for monitor arms - and translucent plastic or pastel fabric infills.

In terms of the demographic mix; the very first Generation Y staffers started to appear during the decade, bringing with them a total trust and understanding of the new communication technologies and a far greater acceptance of new ways of working.