Did the Movie Office Space Predict the Modern Workplace?

Even if you haven’t seen the film Office Space, you have likely lived it. The cult-classic stars Ron Livingston as Peter Gibbons, an office worker caught in an existential crisis. His work is unfulfilling, his office culture is non-existent, his workspace is little more than a prison cell.

We’ve all been there at one time or another whether it’s been at a temp job, our first entry-level position, or an internship on the way to something better. But Peter rebels. After a hypnotherapy session goes awry, he bucks all the company’s trends driving him crazy. Instead of being fired, he earns unprecedented praise for it.

Office Space is very funny, but it is also prophetic. Google, Facebook, Zappos, and other companies founded after the movie was released in 1999 have reimagined the modern workplace. Many employers have phased out the problems that drove Peter crazy—and maybe created a few more, as Office Space creator Mike Judge explores in his latest HBO series, Silicon Valley.

In 2016, the modern workplace looks more like the fantasy Peter imagined than the office that drove him crazy.

The New Office: Taking Down the Cubicle Walls

It’s no accident that the cubicle is one of the first things to go in Office Space. No aspect of the modern workplace is as polarizing as the cubicle. Even though cubicles have bene proven to make workers miserable and lower productivity, many managers continue to use them to cram as many employees into one space as possible.

Young workers in particular fear working in cubicle farms. They may not have to fear them much longer. Since Office Space was released, companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others (like Motus) have driven a change from cube-culture to open, collaborative offices. Millennials, who were not in the professional workforce when Office Space was released, will take one look at a cubicle farm and run for the door.

Remote Workers and the Modern Mobile Workforce

Office Space opens with a typical, maddening, daily commute on a stretch of highway that is more parking lot than road. It’s no wonder Peter’s first instinct after his spiritual awakening is to skip the morning drive.

Although today’s workers will not be working from bed each day, they are spending much less time commuting. Telework has increased 103% since 2005. That number will only be going up. It’s not time to write the office’s obituary just yet, but workers who have come of age in this century will expect flexibility. And they are not alone.
As many as 34 million U.S. employees work from home occasionally, and as many as half would like to do so in the future. Instead of dreading the edict to work over the weekend, employees actually enjoy having the infrastructure available to chip away at urgent work projects in off-time while working from home.

Corporate Culture: Beyond Casual Fridays

Young workers expect more from their corporate culture than monthly birthday parties and a Hawaiian shirt day. Many of the old signifiers of professional life leave them cold.

The CEOs of yesterday wore three-piece suits; Mark Zuckerburg, Steve Jobs, and other modern business leaders dress however they want. In Office Space, Gibbons meets with two consultants, dressed for a day of watching football on the couch rather than working, and Gibbons details the company’s many cultural problems. His main complaint? A disconnect between effort and advancement.

An entire generation feels the same way, and Millennials rate opportunities for advancement and progression as their highest priority for potential employers—above pay.

The Bottom Line

Office Space ends without Peter finding happiness in the office (or going to prison): instead, he begins a different career as a construction worker. Would the hero of Office Space face the same crisis today if he worked for Google, Facebook, Zappos, or the other companies that have reshaped the modern workplace?

Silicon Valley, recently extended into its third season, is attempting to find out. Although many companies have evolved to be more employee-friendly since 1999, the majority are getting by on business practices from the last millennium. Not every office needs a skate ramp, tree house, or nap area, of course. But employers who still see Office Space as an indictment of their workplace rather than a lampooning of a relic from yesteryear may find it difficult to attract and retain top talent.

Learn More About the Modern Workplace

The Author

Todd Gebski

Charged with informing the way existing customers and potential clients think about mobile workforce management—or maybe even understanding what it is—Todd oversees how the Motus brand is received in the marketplace. With more than 15 years experience in marketing and eCommerce, Todd has a firm understanding of the marketing mix needed for success.

Read more by Todd Gebski

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