The word ‘office’ meaning, “a post; an employment to which certain duties are attached,” comes from Middle English in the mid-13c; borrowed from the Old French word ofice, meaning , “[a] place or function; divine service”. It can also be taken directly from the Latin term, officium, meaning “[a] service, kindness, favor; official duty, function, business; ceremonial observance” or simply “[the] performance of a task”. Officium comes from the Latin root opus ‘work’ plus the stem facere ‘to make, to do’.The term “office” being used in describing a place of work or a place to “conduct business” was first recorded in the 1560s. Before this, work and the home were connected, there was no separate place for work to be done. Lawyers, civil servants and other (at the time) new professionals used to be based in the home as it was thought to be more welcoming and comfortable for clients. Once people began to acknowledge a cultural distinction between the office and the home, this is when a shift in the use of ‘office’ occurred. This did not mean that there was an end to work at home, the dialogue around it simply shifted. In the nineteenth century there were still banking dynasties, such as the Rothschilds and Barings that operated out of luxurious homes. Specialized office designs, such as suburban corporate campuses in New York City and large office towers in Chicago, popped up all throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These designs additionally reinforced the distinction between home and work and additional increased the increase in status that went along with ‘office jobs’ in the time and now.
In discussing how class plays a role in “work” and “workspace”, Nikil Saval, illustrates how “the notion of class in the office derives from the concept of the “network”.” In combination with Pierre Bourdieu’s definition of social capital and considering the role of “networking” within that, it is clear how this divide between the office and the home relates to status in society. In addition, there is also a relationship between the understanding that an outside observer might have regarding the quality of work of a freelancer working from home. Without access to a network and without access to collaboration, this would almost be considered as a handicap. The ability for a working to progress will be limited without these things. This is where the notion of “co-working” comes into play.
Let us consider now, some other uses of ‘office’ in society over the years. ‘Office’ can be seen as a modifier, for example, in the case of when someone is referring to an “office job”, as opposed to a job that takes place in the home or in another location outside of an office. This phrasing is often used as a way of creating a distinction between jobs worked at home and jobs worked in an ‘office’; this is a way of separating ‘office jobs’ and ‘unconventional jobs’, or self-employed jobs. For example consider the person who works in a corporate job. They would say, “I’m off to the office” which signifies that they are going to work, most likely at a desk job. Compare this to the person who works freelance or from home. For the person who has the space and money to create a “home office”, they still have the ability to have an identifiable office space. However, for many in these fields, before “co-working spaces”, their “office” was a laptop on their bed or their dining room table. Today, with the changes in technology in addition to the changes in how society operates, there has been a big shift into this notion of “collaborative work space” – also know as co-working. Companies like WeWork have built numerous work spaces that can be rented by individuals, groups, and large companies. There motto is “Create a world where people work to make a life, not just a living”. They market, “From desks to offices and entire headquarters, we create environments for productivity, innovation, and connection.” This removes the focus on an exclusive office space that many of the “office towers”, mentioned earlier, foster. The separation between work and home, though still spacial significant, is beginning to blur. The work people can do in this collaborative work spaces can also be done at the comfort of their own home. The goal of these spaces today are bring light to the benefits of collaboration between individuals; in contrast to the previous role these ‘offices’ played, which was to reinforce a clear black and white line between ‘work’ and ‘home’.