8 Inventions That Have Shaped the Modern Workplace

by Kaitlan Whitteberry on November 10, 2017

You walk into your office around 8:30 or 9:00am, take the elevator to your floor, walk to your desk or where you want to work that day and place your bag on the floor. Maybe you head to the kitchen, grab a cup of coffee, wave hi to Barb in finance, and head back to your cubicle to pull out your computer. You probably don’t think anything of it, right? Except for there is an entire story behind why we work this way. The very existence of the workday and the workplace was crafted years before you were even here. This is the story of inventions that shaped the workplace.

1. Elevator, 1853

We can all thank Mr. Elisha Otis for the modern elevator. His design fixed the safety issues of the elevators during his time. Otis was responsible for developing a safety brake to stop the shaft from moving if the cables broke.

Influence: this changed everything for buildings, and made the construction of skyscrapers possible.

2. 5-Day Workweek, 1926

We may complain about it, but the workweek used to be a lot worse, and a lot longer. Henry Ford coined the idea of the “workweek” and the “weekend” when he wanted to attract better talent to his workforce. This helped switch the norm from a seven day working week to five. He believed higher wages and better working conditions would keep his employees happy and productive. Sound familiar?

Influence: Such a visionary Ford was, his thoughts on providing a supportive, healthy work environment to attract top talent are still relevant today.

3. Coffee Maker, 1954

The start of a generation addicted to caffeine began in Germany with the first electric-drip coffee maker by Gottlab Widmann. While using just paper coffee filters was already a common practice on the scene at the turn of the century, this new machine made for easier cleanup, and a quicker brew – popular in many offices today.

Influence: Responsible for spontaneous collaboration and helping wake up tired teammates, the coffee maker has become a symbol of the modern office.

4. Cubicle, 1967

Whether you love it or hate it, the cubicle had a strong impact on the modern office layout. Robert Propst developed the design for Herman Miller in the 1960s, which he called “Action Office II”. It was meant to help isolate workers from noise and distraction so they could better focus on their work.

Influence: A focus of debate, the cubicle serves as one of the key components to a healthy work environment when paired with other activity-based working solutions.

5. Laptop, 1981

Adam Osbourne of Osbourne Computers invented the device he named “Osbourne 1” in the early 1980s. While technically portable, it weighed 25 pounds, had a 5-inch screen and cost nearly $1800.

Influence: The ability to take technology and subsequently our work with us has changed the game in terms of working remotely and the types of environments we consider workplaces.

6. Coworking, 1995

C-base in Berlin opened in 1995, and was the first community-oriented, public workspace that offered wifi and open spaces for people to work together or independently.

Influence: By offering remote workers and freelancers a place where they feel productive and welcome, coworking has provided the ultimate luxury; the freedom to not live near your office, but to gain the perks an office offers when you need them.

7. Cloud-Based SaaS IWMS, 2002

Our own co-founders, Don Traweek and Elizabeth Dukes, are proud to have presented the first cloud-based SaaS facilities management system to the market in 2002. iOFFICE later evolved to an IWMS in 2009 – and the facilities management software industry has only grown since then, with Gartner reporting on the field beginning in 2004. 

Influence: With the realized importance of employee engagement and rapid changes to the modern workplace, the IWMS field has helped workplace leaders stay competitive and move forward with their office’s changing needs.

8. Slack, 2013

Between lost emails, complicated in-house messaging and multiple avenues to talk, employees were in need of a better way to communicate and share information with their colleagues, they just didn’t know it. Slack filled a void where many people didn’t know one existed.

Influence: By enhancing employee communication and shortening the bridge between members on workplace teams, Slack is supporting the digital workplace revolution.

The workplace is in a constant state of change. As we learn what we need to perform our best, we make adjustments, and the very best adjustments sometimes become part of our everyday ritual. These inventions were once just little sparks of creativity in someone’s mind, thinking “how could this be even better?” We’re so excited to watch the story of the workplace evolve as it’s being written, and can’t wait to see what we add to it next. 


Kaitlan Whitteberry

Kaitlan Whitteberry is a Magna Cum Laude graduate from the University of Missouri's journalism program, and currently focuses on iOFFICE press releases, software updates and related news.

Capterra Ratings: ★★★★★ 4.5/5