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An office is generally a room or other area in which people work, but may also denote a position within an organization with specific duties attached to it (see officer, office-holder, official); the latter is in fact an earlier usage, office as place originally referring to the location of one's duty. When used as an adjective, the term office may refer to business-related tasks. In legal writing, a company or organization has offices in any place that it has an official presence, even if that presence consists of, for example, a storage silo rather than an office.

An office is an architectural and design phenomenon and a social phenomenon, whether it is a tiny office such as a bench in the corner of a "Mom and Pop shop" of extremely small size (see small office/home office) through entire floors of buildings up to and including massive buildings dedicated entirely to one company. In modern terms an office usually refers to the location where white-collar workers are employed.


History of offices

A typical North American office

The word stems from the Latin officium, as its equivalents in various mainly romance languages. Interestingly, this was not necessarily a place, but rather an often mobile 'bureau' in the sense of a human staff or even the abstract notion of a formal position, such as a magistrature. The relatively elaborate Roman bureaucracy would not be equaled for centuries in the West after the fall of Rome, even partially reverting to illiteracy, while the East preserved a more sophisticated administrative culture, both under Byzantium and under Islam.

Office buildings found in the crowded streets of Bangkok, Thailand.

Offices in classical antiquity were often part of a palace complex or a large temple. There was usually a room where scrolls were kept and scribes did their work. Ancient texts mentioning the work of scribes allude to the existence of such "offices". These rooms are sometimes called "libraries" by some archaeologists and the general press because one often associates scrolls with literature. In fact they were true offices since the scrolls were meant for record keeping and other management functions such as treaties and edicts, and not for writing or keeping poetry or other works of fiction.

The medieval chancery was usually the place where most government letters were written and where laws were copied in the administration of a kingdom. The rooms of the chancery often had walls full of pigeonholes, constructed to hold rolled up pieces of parchment for safekeeping or ready reference, a precursor to the book shelf. The introduction of printing during the Renaissance did not change these early government offices much.

Pre-industrial illustrations such as paintings or tapestries often show us personalities or eponyms in their private offices, handling record keeping books or writing on scrolls of parchment. All kinds of writings seemed to be mixed in these early forms of offices. Before the invention of the printing press and its distribution there was often a very thin line between a private office and a private library since books were read or written in the same space at the same desk or table, and general accounting and personal or private letters were also done there.

An office in 1903.

Office structure

There are many different ways of arranging the space in an office and whilst these vary according to function, managerial fashions and the culture of specific companies can be even more important. Choices include, how many people will work within the same room. At one extreme, each individual worker will have their own room; at the other extreme a large open plan office can be made up of one main room with tens or hundreds of people working in the same space. Open plan offices put multiple workers together in the same space, and some studies have shown that they can improve short term productivity, i.e. within a single software project. At the same time, the loss of privacy and security can increase the incidence of theft and loss of company secrets. A type of compromise between open plan and individual rooms is provided by the cubicle, possibly made most famous by the Dilbert cartoon series, which solves visual privacy to some extent, but often fails on acoustic separation and security. Most cubicles also require the occupant to sit with their back towards anyone who might be approaching; workers in walled offices almost always try to position their normal work seats and desks so that they can see someone entering, and in some instances, install tiny mirrors on things such as computer monitors.

Office buildings

A small office building in Salinas, California, United States.

While offices can be built in almost any location in almost any building, some modern requirements for offices make this more difficult. These requirements can be both legal (i.e. light levels must be sufficient) or technical (i.e. requirements for computer networking). Alongside such other requirements such as security and flexibility of layout, this has led to the creation of special buildings which are dedicated only or primarily for use as offices. An office building, also known as an office block, is a form of commercial building which contains spaces mainly designed to be used for offices.

The primary purpose of an office building is to provide a workplace and working environment primarily for administrative and managerial workers. These workers usually occupy set areas within the office building, and usually are provided with desks, PCs and other equipment they may need within these areas.

An office building will be divided into sections for different companies or may be dedicated to one company. In either case, each company will typically have a reception area, one or several meeting rooms, singular or open-plan offices, as well as toilets.

Many office buildings also have kitchen facilities and a staff room, where workers can have lunch or take a short break.

Office and Retail Rental Rates

Rates for Office and Retail space are most usually quoted on a per square foot/per year basis. Rents for Montgomery County, MD, for example, average around $29/SF (per year), but range anywhere from $20/SF to $50/SF.

Calculation: (SF * Rate)/12 months = Monthly Rent


A particular space is 2,000 SF at $15.00/SF per year: (2000 * 15)/12 = $2,500/mo

In a Gross Lease, the rate quoted is an all inclusive rate. One pays a set amount of rent every month and the landlord is responsible for all other expenses such as electricity, taxes, insurance, maintenance, repairs and everything under the sun. In this type of lease, the rates tend to be higher. However, it eliminates the need for the tenant to deal with all the other expenses and the risk is passed on to the landlord.

The triple net lease means rent plus a pro-rata share of property taxes, insurance and maintenance (such as utilities, cooling and heating, repairs, janitorial, landscaping etc) are passed on to the tenant. The tenant takes the risk if expenses increase annually.

Office robbery statistics

Theft in the workplace is a common occurrence. Surveys indicate that the majority of office workers (58%) have admitted to having taken office supplies for their personal use. The most commonly stolen office supplies include pens/pencils (78% admit to this), followed by self-adhesive "sticky" notes (44%) and paper clips (40%). Some employees are even taking decorations like plants, paintings and office furniture (i.e. stools, chairs, shelves) (2%).[1]

In fact, in the U.S. state of Ohio, approximately 45% of all stolen equipment in 2004 was office equipment.[2]

To minimize the effects of robberies of office buildings, the company which leases the office space will often invest in office burglary and robbery insurance.[3] This insurance often covers both monetary theft by employees and physical robberies, such as stealing office furniture, equipment, or information.


Offices and office buildings are generally graded, in terms of quality, in a three tier grading system: [1]


Class A

Class A (or Grade A) will have the highest quality fit and finish to the internal furnishings and will tend to have more architectural detailing on the outside of the building. Such buildings will typically charge the highest rental charges.

Typical fixtures will include hardwood mouldings; 6 panel doors; sinks made of corian, china, diamond, and gold; and countertops and flooring made from corian or natural stone such as granite or marble.

Class B

Class B (or Grade B) will have similar surfaces as a Class A building but using materials of a lower quality. The buildings will have fewer architectural details than typical Class A buildings.

Typical fixtures include a mix of hardwood; wood flat panel doors; formica countertops; and ceramic tiles and porcelain sinks used in toilets.

Class C

Class C (or Grade C) will have lower quality fit and finish to the internal decorations and furnishings. The design of such buildings will be basic and will typically demand the lowest rental charges.

Typical fixtures include formica countertops; sheet vinyl flooring; cheaper carpets and cheaper windows and doors.

See also


Soft issues


  • Adams, Scott. What do you call a sociopath in a cubicle? (answer, a coworker) Kansas City, Missouri: Andrews McMeel Pub., 2002.
  • Duffy, Francis. Colin Cave. John Worthington, editors. Planning Office Space. London: The Architectural Press Ltd., 1976.
  • Klein, Judy Graf. The Office Book. New York: Facts on File Inc., 1982.


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