30 years of workplace evolution

Customisable business insurance
25 August 2017
3 minute read

The gig economy. Co-working. Digital nomads. Just a few of the workplace buzzwords that would have been gobbledegook to workers of the 1980s, 90s, or even the 2000s. The way we work has changed so dramatically in recent years, it's easy to overlook how far we've come. So, to get your heads spinning – and give you a few laughs – here's a rundown of the biggest milestones in workplace culture over the last three decades.


Most Millennials weren't even born when the first Apple Mac was invented in 1984, shortly followed by the first mobile phone in 1988– which was about the size of your head! Yet despite these technological marvels, the '80s workplace was still a fairly traditional place. You'd be allocated an office or cubicle, depending on your level of seniority (open plan was a distant dream!) and women were still in the minority, so sexual harassment was, unfortunately, just part of the job. Chances are you'd be in the same company until you retired and, with few computers and no email or internet yet, communication was over the phone, via 'snail mail' or the ever-reliable (ahem) fax. But it was okay, because at least you could smoke a few cigarettes at your desk while you waited for a reply!


This was the decade when computers went from being mind-numbingly boring - unless you were some of kind of computer geek (which was not cool in those days) - to being actually pretty useful. The World Wide Web became openly available in 1990 and we all had to get our heads around this 'www dot' business. But to be honest, people were probably more excited about the invention of the SMS in 1992, which meant we no longer had to speak to people – heaven! Communications started to speed up, as the big Internet Service Providers launched (AOL, anyone?), bringing email to the masses and slowly making the dreaded fax a relic of the past. Oh, and smoking was banned in offices in 1998, so no more puffing away at your desk!


A lot happened in the noughties, from the burst of the dot.com bubble in 2001, to massive economic growth and then the disastrous Credit Crunch of 2008. Technology moved on in leaps and bounds, with numerous innovations changing how we worked. Google was in the ascendance and Skype arrived in 2003, easing global communications and paving the way for remote working. Smartphones also started to appear in the early noughties, with the Ericsson R380, Palm Trio and Blackberry Quark giving us email on the move. Then in 2007, the iPhone came along, and everything changed forever! Work also became a fairer place in the 2000s, with a raft of employment legislation banning discrimination based on age and sexual orientation, enabling flexible working and boosting annual leave. Employers also started to care more about the wellbeing of their staff, as the concept of employee engagement officially became a 'thing'.

From cubicles to co-working… looking back over 30 years in the workplace

The… Teenies?

If the 2000s paved the way for a more casual, flexible and caring workstyle, then in the 2010s the Millennials ran with it! Home working, hot-desking, co-working, remote working and gig working have all become the norm in the last 10 years, driven by technology that lets us connect and collaborate like never before. Self-employment and start-up culture has exploded, with technology making it infinitely cheaper and easier to get up and running on your own. Cloud computing gives us all sorts of products, services and tools on-demand – Google Drive, Slack and Trello, to name just a few. And who could forget social media? From Facebook, to LinkedIn, Instagram to Snapchat, just so all our friends and colleagues know exactly what we're doing - at all times.

This content has been created for general information purposes and should not be taken as formal advice. Read our full disclaimer.

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