THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC has irrevocably changed the way the world lives and works. Things will eventually settle down. Covid will regress from pandemic to endemic as the Spanish flu did a century ago. But something fundamentally has changed. There are rare inflection points in history. When Europe industrialised in the late 1700s, the concept of the “office” did not exist. Workers lived in, or near, factories.
Ajit Balakrishnan, co-founder of Rediffusion, explains: “People working under one roof dates back only to the Industrial Revolution in England in the late 18th century. Richard Arkwright – the inventor of ‘water frame’, a large cotton spinning machine powered by a water-wheel – found his machine too large to fit into a single house. So he assembled all the people working under one roof in a centralised location in Derbyshire, England, and called it Cromford Mill, the ‘factory’. Till then, all weaving of cloth had been done throughout the world by craftsmen working from home.
“Just as Arkwright’s water frame drove the creation and spread of the ‘factory’, it was the parallel growth of industries like banking, rail, insurance and telegraphy that created the need for a large number of clerks to handle order processing, accounting, and document filing, which created the ‘office’. It is widely believed that the East India Company’s location in Leadenhall Street, London, in 1729 from where an army of bureaucrats managed their colonial possessions was the first large ‘office’ in the world.”
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