A recent Financial Times article chronicled the history of office culture through the history of the desk. The “legless box” lugged around by the mid-15th century scribe spoke nothing of comfort. The modern, ergonomically designed desk of today was created with comfort in mind, but seems void of personality.
What cultural values does your desk convey? Comfort? Beauty? Personality? Equality? Whether you know it or not, it tells a story about your business—as does every object that fills your office.
In 1995 The History Factory moved from downtown Washington, D.C., to a suburban office park. A replica model of the D.C. building that inspired our name and the original “The History Factory” tin sign came with us. For newer employees with no memory of that downtown building, these artifacts help bring the company’s past to life.
But too many companies try to leave the past behind. Magnificent, mahogany desks that signify the strength and leadership of one era disappear, replaced by durable, identical cubes that herald the sensible equality of the next. As change sweeps through a business, important artifacts are caught in the tide, often ending up in back alley dumpsters.
One THF client knows this story all too well. In an attempt to re-envision the company, leaders ordered employees to dispose of the elegant, traditional décor that they felt was too closely tied to its old image. Unable to part with their history, workers stowed the artifacts away. When the company changed hands, new leadership embraced its long heritage. Out came the memories, hidden in storage for years.
Preserving history should not be a deceitful, secretive act. Even if it’s time for a new message, there’s still space to remember the old one. Keeping heritage alive can save companies from unintentionally repeating the past—or allow them to intentionally revisit former successes and capitalize on the power of their heritage.