1. Home Brother
  2. Business Solutions
  3. Insights hub
  4. Blog
  5. Business
  6. The history of office technology, from the 90s to now
illustration showing the evolving office setting, from a cubicle to remote working

The history of office technology, from the 90s to now

Technology back then vs now.

New technology has driven a host of dramatic changes to our working lives since the 1990s. Here we take a look at how technology in the workplace has changed the way the typical office operates over the last 30 years.

The Evolution of a Circular Economy

A gif showing how printer hardware is being made obsolete thanks to circular products

Rapid innovation has meant some hardware has quickly been rendered obsolete, but the industry has responded by moving away from the traditional linear economy of make, use, dispose.

The circular economy is an economic system aimed at minimising waste and maximising the use of resources.

Circular products have become more and more prevalent as attitudes and technology shift, from tyres that get recycled into trainers to soft plastics that are mixed with asphalt for roads. In order to reduce the consumption and wastage they incur, organisations are increasingly opting for circular products, such as office printers with parts that can be recycled and replaced.

Brother is a zero waste to landfill certified company and to aid our commitment to circular product design, we recycle 1.8 million toner cartridges every year, and have recently launched our new EcoPro subscription service. We’ve also worked hard to “design out” waste from the product life cycle, recovering and reusing products and materials as much as possible.

The Evolution of the Office Computer


In the early 90s, the average office computer might typically have 4MB of memory, cost an eye-watering £5,900 and run the very latest operating system – Windows 3.

To put that into context, 4MB is about the size of a single MP3 file!

Today’s desktop computers are more than 2,000 times more powerful than those in the early 90s and cost less than a tenth of the price. That’s not to mention the transformation in the way we use computers, with portable and handheld touchscreen devices taking computing out of the office.

That, alongside the connectivity provided by the internet, was fundamental in enabling firms to continue operating effectively during the coronavirus lockdown.

However, along with the many productivity benefits that computer networks have delivered, new risks have been created, fuelling explosive growth in the cybersecurity industry.

The Evolution of Office Communication

Tim Berners-Lee developed the technology that enabled email and web browsing by 1990, but it was still far from commonplace in UK offices, being mainly used to connect laboratories working on government research.

In 1995, just 0.4% of the global population regularly used the internet, which has risen to 51% today.

The height of communication technology back then was the fax machine, while the first brick-sized mobile phones were also starting to become more widely adopted.

The era of fax machines came to an end with the rise of email, which remains the most used communication platform for business today.

More recently, instant and group messaging platforms like Microsoft Teams are widely used, alongside video conferencing systems like Zoom.

The Evolution of Digital File Storage

Digitally storing large amounts of data in the 90s typically meant transferring it to some kind of disk or even tape. There were many different competing formats that emerged during the decade, which are now largely obsolete.

Further breakthroughs including hard disk drives and solid state disks with no moving parts provided ever bigger amounts of storage throughout the decade.

By the 2000s, on-site servers began to be replaced by cloud storage, driven by a need both for off-site accessibility and disaster preparedness.

The Evolution of Search


“Google it” is now such a ubiquitous term that it even appears in the Oxford English Dictionary, but back in the 90s, searching for information could be far more time consuming.

If data was stored digitally in the 90s, it was likely to be on physical formats like discs or tapes because of the limitations of the computers of the time.

Today, smartphones and 4G data networks mean we all have the power to search vast resources of data while on the go, and can even browse the net using voice commands.

The Evolution of Secure Document Management


In the 90s, for most offices document management is likely to have meant just one thing – paper, and plenty of it!

Finding the right document might mean hours of painstaking searching through racks of files in dusty basements.

Indeed, paper use actually doubled between 1980 and 1995 because of the rise of affordable laser printing.

During the 2000s, the rise of secure digital storage saw paper use fall, while the ability to search documents electronically meant the right file was easier to find.

Although paper documents still feature in many processes today, the benefits of digitisation mean that efficient scanning technology has become key for many businesses.

Find out how our latest scanners can help you digitise your documents and work more securely and efficiently with our scanning solutions and pull printing technology.

Discover how we predict the office technologies of the future will evolve and advance towards.

Brother U.K. Limited are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FRN: 711814)

EcoPro product is unregulated and therefore the FCA’s DISP rulebook and the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) are not applicable to the unregulated product

More from Business

Related posts

Back to top