When the Walls Came Down

In Season 2 of Mad Men, ad executive Roger Sterling is sitting alone in his cavernous office whacking a paddle ball when office manager Joan Holloway walks in to inform him that everyone outside can hear the loud thumping noises.

“Nobody knows what I’m doing,” Sterling replies. “It’s good for mystique.”

The average workplace has evolved tremendously since the Mad Men era. While mystique may have played a large role in the past, spaces today tend to be much more transparent—literally and figuratively.

We’ve moved from a world where staffers and secretaries, most of whom were women, toiled in vast, open spaces while executives, most of whom were men, cozied up in their private corner offices, to a more modern reality where members of the C-suite, both men and women, sit out in the open—if they even have their own desks to begin with. While the offices of the past were powered by an endless amount of technology—bulky switchboards, typewriters, rotary phones, enormous computers, fax machines and more—today’s offices run on laptops and wireless devices. Decades ago, employees rarely heard from their bosses after hours. Now, it’s not uncommon to burn the midnight oil in the age of remote working and flexible schedules.

At Knotel, we’re on a mission to always be on the cutting edge in the evolution of the modern workplace. Companies have been tethering themselves to 10- and 20-year leases for decades, but our innovative business model provides our business partners with the real estate flexibility they need to thrive. With Knotel, customers enjoy agile office space that scales to accommodate their unique and ever-evolving business needs.

Before we look further into the future, we wanted to take a step back and look at how far we’ve come.

1. The Mad Men era (1950s–1970s)

Fifty years ago, most offices celebrated a boys club atmosphere. It wasn’t until 1978 when it became illegal to fire someone for getting pregnant.

Although we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to gender equality, much has changed since the whiskey-and-cigarette-smoke-fueled workplaces of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Today, women build and run billion-dollar companies. And while employees might toss back a celebratory drink at the office, they’re more likely to appreciate a cold-pressed juice bar on the premises.

2. The Office Space era (1980s–1990s)

As technology continued to evolve and knowledge workers began to rely increasingly on what are now rudimentary computers, the workforce entered the age of the cubicle. Most employees moved out of private offices and sat in large rooms together, with everyone separated by three flimsy walls.

When cubicles were created, they were intended to liberate workers. In theory, employees could customize their surroundings however they wanted to, setting up their workspaces in a way that made them fully productive.

Unfortunately, furniture companies fell in love with cubicles, copying the concept while making them more like boxes than individual workspaces. Over time, managers became most interested in seeing how many employees they could cram into increasingly smaller spaces. In the end, cubicles got such a bad rap that the man who invented them, Robert Propst, went to his grave hating his creation, calling the cubicle-ization of people in corporate environments “monolithic insanity.”

3. The Office era (2000s)

As the movement against cubicles reached fever pitch, workplaces began adopting open office layouts a la The Office. Sure, boss Michael Scott had his own private office. But the rest of the team worked in open rooms, without the protection of cubicles, for better or for worse.

While open offices remain popular today, the data suggests these workspaces can have an adverse effect on productivity. Just think about how much work Dwight and Jim didn’t do because they were too busy pranking each other.

4. The Internship era (2010s)

“In Silicon Valley, the tight correlation between personal interactions, performance, and innovation is an article of faith, and innovators are building cathedrals reflecting this,” a recent Harvard Business Review article begins. “Google’s new campus is designed to maximize chance encounters. Facebook will soon put several thousand of its employees into a single mile-long room.”

To increase productivity, accelerate innovation, and unlock creativity, deep-pocketed tech companies have reimagined the modern office altogether. It’s not uncommon for workers in these environments to not have their own dedicated workspaces. Instead, they travel around an enormous campus, sitting at any number of available workstations whenever inspiration strikes.

This kind of office is proudly on display in The Internship, shot at Google’s headquarters. It is part of the reason the elderly underdogs played by Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn were able to seamlessly collaborate and beat the other teams of interns to win jobs at Google.

Unfortunately, most companies don’t have the resources to spend hundreds of millions of dollars building their own massive headquarters. And even if they do, the question is: should they?

5. The Knotel era (2015 and beyond!)

Today, companies need flexibility with their offices. They have no interest in signing 10- or 15-year eases for expensive properties only to end up moving into an office that was originally designed for some other company.

The good news is that, in the Knotel era, businesses big and small can move into the offices they need on terms that make sense for them. Knotel offices are built with flexibility in mind so that they can evolve as companies grow and business needs change.

We work with companies to create the exact office spaces they need, leveraging best practices and current research to build workplaces that employees love.

Why move into anything less than an office that was built to meet your specific objectives?

Partner with Knotel—the office model of today and tomorrow—and you won’t have to.

Interested in learning more about what Knotel has to offer? Stop by our brand-new showroom at 666 Broadway in NoHo to meet our sales team, check out our process, and see what we can build for you. We look forward to seeing you there!