Inventions and Innovations that Shaped the Workplace: The Starting Point


Flexible hours, comfortable couches and unfussy fashions weren’t always options for most American office workers. Those privileges that many of today’s employees take for granted were unthinkable during the early 19th century.

Throughout the years, how we view the workplace has dramatically changed, which in turn, has affected everything from the actual physical space to how employees dress. In many cases, the entire work philosophy has shifted. Generally, employees are no longer expected to work excessively long hours in cramped cubicles while wearing stuffy business suits.

Countless studies have proven that productivity and efficiency aren’t contingent upon a one-size fits all model and employers and developers are constantly figuring out ways to find the best solution. 

Today, the agile workplace promotes a sensible work-life balance, collaborative workspaces and the freedom to wear more casual attire.

Below, we look at a few ideas and inventions throughout American workplace history that have evolved and played a tremendous role in the advancements of the modern workplace.

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Working 9 to 5

At some point in their careers, many American employees have wondered how the bemoaned five-day-a-week, 8-hour workday came to be. For starters, during the 1800s, the workday used to be more demanding and called for 10- to 16-hour shifts for factory workers who had to be on the clock— almost around the clock. That’s nearly double the norm today. The standard eight-hour shifts were established in 1940, after it was mandated by Congress following the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which limited the workweek to 44 hours, or 8.8 hours per day.

Working inside the box

Employers today give employees the freedom to express themselves accordingly as long as their workplace wardrobes are tasteful and inoffensive.

Cubicles made their design debut in 1964 to provide workers with privacy and autonomy. Created by Robert Propst, a designer for then-home furnishings company Herman Miller, he studied how people worked and wanted to improve on the open layout he was accustomed to. However, when cubicles made their way into offices around the country in 1968, they were not an immediate hit. Eventually, workers began to embrace working independently in enclosed spaces to boost their productivity while business owners welcomed them, thanks to furniture tax breaks.

In the 1980s and 1990s their popularity skyrocketed. With mergers and white collar jobs rapidly emerging, the need for cubicles increased. Fast-forward to today and cubicles are prominent throughout many workplaces. Yet, the case for open spaces is more prevalent than ever.

Dress for success  

When office layouts got less stuffy, office attire followed suit. During the Cold War era, most office workers wore boxy suits, blouses, full-length skirts and slacks. With the advent of “business casual” in the late 1980s and early 1990s, ushered in large party by the Silicon Valley tech workers, workplace fashion grew even more relaxed, casual and comfortable. Starched shirts and crisp business suits are giving way to T-shirts, blazers and jeans, and even sneakers as more employees replace conventional boardroom meetings with the virtual kind on Skype or FaceTime. Generally, employers today give employees the freedom to express themselves accordingly as long as their workplace wardrobes are tasteful and inoffensive.


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