Abstract In the industrialized world office work involves about half the population; and the asset value of office buildings is the largest single item in the value of a nation's asset base. Yet the whole area is notorious for its low productivity in terms of both people and buildings. Historically offices have been treated with a mixture of indifference and indulgence by top management. How and why has this happened? And what can be done about it? This paper analyses the reasons behind this appalling waste of resources; it also discusses the forces for change and makes a number of suggestions that could radically affect the outlook for office buildings and office work in the 1990s and beyond.