There's A New Workplace 'Power Symbol' That Has Replaced The Coveted Corner Office

Say goodbye to privacy and hello to sharing space.

woman standing in an office Jacob Lund / Shutterstock

Over the past four years, our relationship with work has changed dramatically. We went from commuting to an office every day to walking from the bedroom to the couch, hunching over our laptops, with our pets as our only co-workers.

Return-to-office mandates are once again restructuring how we work. While most employees aren’t especially happy with the shift, corporate leaders insist that being in an office will boost productivity and output.


There’s a new workplace ‘power symbol’ that’s replacing the coveted corner office.

In a bygone era, having a corner office meant you’d really made it. Having a room of one’s own, tucked away from the rest of your co-workers, was a true signifier of success.

Yet that emblem of corporate achievement is fading as corporate culture reinvents itself in the era of the hybrid schedule.

boss sitting in corner office FoToArtist Ⓜ︎ / Canva Pro


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So, what is this new marker of office place power, you may ask? The answer isn’t exactly intuitive.

The prestige of the corner office is being replaced by conference rooms and collaborative spaces.

In 2021, 14% of the average office floor was taken up by communal areas. In 2023, that number rose to 20%.


The real estate company CBRE reported that the number of private offices along the side of a building, including corner offices, has lessened by half since 2021. In fact, assigned desks and offices are declining entirely, making up only 45% of any given office, down from 56% in 2021.

You might think that moving away from the cushy private office to a fluorescently lit room with one long table lends itself to a more egalitarian environment, but you would be wrong.

Even without a corner office, executives hold more power and influence than lower-level workers; it just shows up in subtle ways.

C-suite executives know how to take up space, even in communal areas. They might not be sitting in their corner office, yet their social status remains on full display.

They have the option to come and go with less supervision. They have access and flexibility and maybe even a permanent seat at the head of that communal table.


coworkers sitting at a table Friends Stock / Shutterstock

They’re still the ones leading meetings and making major decisions that affect everyone else’s lives, like ordering people back into the office when it’s been proven that remote work is healthier and more productive.

As Kay Sargent, a director at a design firm, noted, it’s a “dirty little secret” that conference rooms represent the new corner office and that companies now “have as many conference rooms as there are executives.”


From a historical standpoint, corner offices became synonymous with power in the pre-World War II era. By the early 2000s, office designers were phasing corner offices out.

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One of the most notable moves to an open-plan office came with Google’s redesign in 2005.

The idea behind the change was rooted in the spirit of collaboration, as though that would allow regular workers to forget how astronomically rich Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were.


thoughts on office hierarchy via architecture and design

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By 2020, offices seemed like a thing of the past, an ancient relic representing a world we’d never find again.


Yet, in 2024, CEOs are pushing reluctant employees into the office under the guise that in-person work makes them more productive.

Really, it comes down to not trusting people to manage their own workflow from the privacy of their homes.

Returning to the office has made workers significantly less satisfied with their jobs, even though companies offer perks like higher income just to get people to show up.


Being back in a physical workspace has led to retention issues and lower performance on actual results.

worker smiling looking out a window Yaroslav Astakhov / Shutterstock


Still, corporate leaders are insistent that offices are the wave of the future, even though they seem stuck in the past.

New office leases are around 20% smaller than they were before 2020. Part of implementing communal areas is to pack more employees into less space.

In “Work Design Magazine,” Steve Delfino wrote about the various downsides to open-plan offices, including noise levels and lack of privacy.

Of course, giving people the option to work from home would solve those pesky issues, but it seems more important for executives to keep up appearances and hold tight to their status, much to the detriment of every other employee sitting with them in the conference room. 


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Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team. She covers social issues, pop culture, and all things to do with the entertainment industry.