The origins of Britain’s offices

July 26th, 2013 Category: Office Cleaning

Although the office is a staple of modern British commerce, the origins of the contemporary workplace is something we had little idea about until a recent BBC Magazine report dug up some historical indications.

Columnist Lucy Kellaway has delved into the history books to shed a little light on the origins of the office. Although many people consider it to be a modern phenomenon, the research showed that the first offices could date back as late as the 18th century, when the East India Company first started trading in the UK.

"The East India Company is hugely significant for the history of offices because it created over time a very large and complex bureaucracy," Huw Bowen of Swansea University told the BBC.

The company’s growth as a trading company with Asia generated large amounts of documents which had to be processed and stored, and as the company’s empire grew in India, it established headquarters “to process information and make decisions about things that were taking place thousands of miles away”, Mr Bowen adds.

East India house, therefore, could be one of the earliest functioning offices, becaming the centre of bureaucratic processes which govern the economy today. With the establishment of a company premises, Charles Lamb, the manager of the empire, started to demand that staff worked ‘office hours’ in clerical positions, which was a very new concept indeed.

There is also a lot of evidence of what we would call work-related stress, which in those days was described as being insane. For office workers across the country, many would confirm that even today there is a very fine line between the two distinctions!