Top 13 workplace changes in the past century.

Top 13 workplace changes in the past century.

It’s no secret that the workplace has changed significantly in the past century. Just think of your parents and grandparents. What did they do for their jobs? Was your mother a software engineer working from a laptop on her sofa at home or your grandfather answering emails on the go whilst simultaneously listening in on a global team meeting? Probably not.

Our way of working has changed in ways the previous generations could never have imagined. Let’s take a look at the top 13 of the biggest shifts in the way we work today compared to the past century.

1. Changes in tools we use to work.

This one’s a humdinger. It’s not surprising that the #1 way business has changed over the past century is due to the fast-paced way technology has evolved in the past 100 years – and specifically in the past 20 years. Some of the biggest inventions that drastically changed the way we work are:

    • 1930s – invention of the telephone
    • 1950s – invention of the fax machine
    • 1960s – invention of email
    • 1970s – handheld mobile phone
    • 1980s – personal computers
    • 1990s – World Wide Web
    • 1990s – Instant messaging
    • 2003 – Skype video calls

2. Changes in types of jobs.

Not only has the evolution of technology in the workplace changed the way we work, but also the types of jobs people can have. Technology has allowed for machines to perform the jobs that people used to have over the past century. Many of the jobs that people had during World War 2 for example – factory workers, farming, typists, phone operators and agricultural jobs are mostly run by machines today.

As technology advances further and further, there is less demand for ‘hands-on’ jobs that require less advanced skills and more ‘desk’ jobs that require more advanced cognitive skills.

3. Changes in focus on education.

Education has long been a focus in the western world. But there has been an increasing amount of pressure for students to achieve well beyond what their parents and grandparents would have accomplished at the same age. Nations have learned that a strong education is linked to innovation and growth of their nation. If they don’t focus on strong education, they are in danger of falling behind. Therefore, in order to get a good job, students have to be that much more advanced in their studies than previous generations. This leads to an increased pressure for early childhood development, higher education, and even lifelong adult learning programmes so people can attain and maintain good paying jobs.

4. Changes in place of work.  

With the advances in technology, physical presence in a workspace is no longer mandatory. In a pre-pandemic world, working from home was slowly gaining popularity thanks to technologies that allow people to work from home whilst maintaining productivity and communication with team members in the office. Companies were slowly but surely allowing more people to work from home. But when Covid-19 hit, people were forced to work from home, showing companies that employees are able to maintain productivity levels whilst working from home.

5. Changes in how we work.  

In previous decades, workplaces were much less technology oriented. Most businesses had meetings in person, business calls took place over landlines, documents were all hard copies with large physical filing systems in the office. Today, everything we need is on our laptops and phones. We can answer emails on the go, send files online that global teams can access instantly, attend meetings in our cars and complete all of our day-to-day tasks from our sofas if we want. Employees are also able to have more flexible working schedules that work best for their lifestyle and family responsibilities.

6. Changes in what is sold.  

Physical products such as soaps and glasses, and services such as nail salons and barbershops are very much still alive and well. But as the digital space grows more and more, there has been a new player in the space – digital platforms, intellectual property and software.

7. Changes in global business.

In years past, most businesses would be local. There was a difficulty to communicate in other markets and a difficulty to transport items. But with the technology we have today, even small businesses can become global without many (or any) assets or employees.

8. Changes in freelancing.

Employment at one company is no longer the only way to generate income. More and more people are taking on freelancing work instead. In fact, Europe saw a 45% increase in freelancers from 2014 to 2019 with 1.1 billion freelancers globally. And if people aren’t full-time freelancers, many people are taking on freelancing work on the side. In the US, more than two-thirds of its 57.3 million freelancers used freelancing to supplement their existing traditional job with an employer.

9. Changes in career attitude.

In previous decades, many people would join a company and remain there until they retired. Today, many people job hop every few years by either changing companies, industries, or even moving to different careers entirely. Not only that, but it is also becoming more common for young workers to supplement their income with a ‘side-hustle such as teaching a fitness class, picking up freelancing work, or selling hand-made items online.

10. Changes in style of management.

There has also been a shift in the relationship between bosses and their employees. In years past, employees were to keep their heads down and complete the orders given to them from above. In today’s workspace, there is much more collaboration, employee empowerment, and more autonomy for employees. And for leaders, there is a shift from a desire for task-oriented skills to people-oriented skills, with a focus on developing employees to build them into the leaders of tomorrow.

11. Changes in connecting with consumers.

Over the past century, advertisements began rising in popularity. Today, many companies advertise and have an easier time connecting with consumers. Companies have more knowledge about consumers thanks to years of data collection. It is now easier to connect with the right audiences who may be interested in a company’s product or service.

12. Changes in diversity and inclusion.

Over the past 100 years, we have seen big changes in workplace diversity. A century ago, there were specific jobs for people based on their gender. Women were teachers, nurses, phone operators whilst the men were reporters, doctors and lawyers. Now, we see both men and women in similar roles. There were also fewer women in the workforce with about 20% of women making up the workplace in 1920 versus 46.8% of the workplace being women today.

We also see more diversity in other areas of discrimination such as racial diversity, cultural diversity and sexual orientation. There is still much work to be done to see more workplace diversity, but we have made great progress in the past century.

13. Changes in legal protections.

Over the past century, we have seen an increase in labour protection laws. For example, it is illegal to hire child labour or discriminate based on gender, race, religion, colour, country of origin and age. There are also laws that protect against sexual harassment and rules about keeping employees safe in the workplace, along with many other regulations to protect employees.


It is clear that there have been some major changes in the way we work today compared to a century ago. It will be interesting to see what other changes we will see over the next century. What changes do you think we’ll see? Tell us what you think in the comments!

To find out more about Guild Living’s commitments to equal opportunities for employees, click here.