Nostalgia and influence: films that depict and predict the workplace.

By: Esme Banks Marr

The film season is finally upon us. After months of being subject to mediocre movies, cinemas are finally bursting with watchable films and actors acting their little hearts out for the recognition they (and the industry) believe they deserve (it’s a bit like BIFM really?). With the Golden Globes out of the way, the Academy Awards and BAFTAs are up next and for film enthusiasts, like yours truly, it’s full steam ahead.

Films are notorious for predicting things and, obviously, they depict things. Back to The Future (1985), for example, predicted things like conference calling and contactless payments.

The eighties!
Films jam-packed with big corner offices, mahogany desks (wood is back by the way), impressive skylines, umbrella plants (biophillic design…), fluffy hairdos, and brick mobile phones… many a meme has been created with a still shot of Gordon Gekko in front of his huge, ergonomically-friendly chair. The eighties was an era of evolving technology, yuppies and enormous financial frauds, and it has – for better or worse, left a huge bearing in history and sentiment in our hearts.

Gordon Gekko in Wall Street

It seems many of the ‘workplace’ films we know and love came from the eighties, the decade of excess. Working Girl (1988), Wall Street (1987), 9 to 5 (1980), Trading Places (1983), The Secret of My Success (1987), Fatal Attraction (1987)…

In the last few years, several movies following the same thematic have been released causing many of us to reminisce about times foregone (think: Wolf of Wall Street, 2013). But things in the workplace have certainly changed since then: there are more women, everyone has a computer, smoking is done exclusively outdoors and shoulder pads have shrunk to manageable proportions. Unfortunately.

Even earlier
Now, it’s not just the eighties that we yearn for (don’t be alarmed millenials): offices depicted in films much earlier than that have brought us viewing pleasure, as well as helping pave the way for new designs.

The Apartment (1960) is interesting from a design perspective, with rows and rows of uniform desks on a huge open plan floor. The ‘open plan’ office as we know it today is supposed to get rid of outdated hierarchies and inefficient bureaucracy, encouraging collaboration and creative interactions. However, around the time The Apartment was made, open plan spaces were increasingly used to keep watch over employees and monitor progress, from the managerial offices around the edges – that’s not the goal now. Honest.

The Apartment

Remember the time when paper folders, fax machines, double-spacing after a full stop, handwritten notes, coloured pushpins and pencils played a semi-important role in the workplace? No? Nor do I. But I have seen it in a film or two.

If you’re a Gen Y or Z, you were pretty much raised on pop culture; we know things by seeing them in films – you get arrested, you’re at the police station, how many phone calls are you allowed? Exactly. Hopefully this example won’t apply, but we can be better prepared for the world of work and today’s offices, by what we see on our screens.

And now
It’s 2017 (wow), and we’re working longer and harder than ever; the 9-5 working day is a thing of the past (sorry, Dolly). We stay later, start earlier, work around our personal lives and we’re never really “out of the office”. We live in the “always on” culture of pulling your emails out of your pockets and conference calling from the coffee shop around the corner (last film pun, I promise). For these reasons alone, it’s important to take a break. No matter how wrapped up we are, or will become with our working lives and daily obligations, there is always a little time for yourself.

Workplaces today are sleek, stylish, and in innovative destinations. We’re focusing on the employee as much as the space now, and the wellbeing of workers is at the heart of what we do (or certainly should be).

Being dedicated to your job is very commendable, but whether you believe you’re living to work, or working to live, ‘playtime’ is as essential to personal growth and wellbeing as it was when we were young. In a world that is increasingly demanding more of our time and attention to detail, it’s crucial to remember, in the words of Ferris Bueller “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Ben Keeley