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The office is a ubiquitous feature of daily life. This paper examines a particularly important period in its history: the early decades of the twentieth century. Our contemporary conceptions of the routines conducted within this organizational form, or indeed the structure of the space which houses it, were significantly shaped during this era. Within this time frame, we witness the rise of the office skyscraper alongside the systematisation and rationalisation of office tasks. Drawing upon the instructional office manuals of the age, this paper seeks to provide a comprehensive review of the detailed dictates associated with the application of science and system to administrative routines. Further, by adopting a governmentality framework, the paper presents an alternative account of this significant period of historical transformation. Govermentality sets the initiatives of the individual office worker within the broader context of a national programme of efficiency. It links the actions of private enterprises with the priorities of the state. Such insights, we believe, shed further light on the forces which shape organizational strategy making and hence suggest the importance of a historically situated approach to understanding the concept of strategy.

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This page is a summary of: The ‘problem’ of the office: Scientific management, governmentality and the strategy of efficiency, Business History, October 2013, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.1080/00076791.2013.838034.
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