Office Life: Then and Now

Big, sleek exec-style desks, posh seating areas (with couches for afternoon naps), and lots of fancy barware for mixing cocktails, would we actually love (or even survive) 1960s office life?

Office staples such as typewriters, snail mail, and switchboard operators are found nowadays in history books rather than the workplace.  These outdated relics have been replaced by a modern relative, allowing businesses today, supposedly, to increase productivity, security, and accessibility.

While today’s technologies focus on efficiency and speed, if you wanted a Xerox (what’s that? I hear you say) in the past, you had to physically get up from your desk, trundle over to a big grey box (not dissimilar to a large chest freezer), lift the lid, insert your document, and press the button. After much whirring and grinding, the copy would come out of the other end, just in time for lunch.

In those days we were limited to landlines for communication, now, through the cloud, calls can be forwarded to your smart phone and voice, data, and images can be received on practically any device.  The tools we use to write, communicate, and use to present ideas, including keeping our files safe are a few examples of how those mid century managers might not recognize our modern business world of today.

In the 60s the sharpest guy would clock in at 09.00, sporting a three piece wool suit, and his fedora at jaunty angle. On his desk there would be a glass of whisky and an ashtray brimming with butts. Maybe he’d pop out for lunch at a Joe Lyons café, or somewhere swankier, then come back to the office for a while and be out by 4.30.

Nowadays he comes in at sparrow fart, what?…there’s address code? On his desk is a cup of single drip, single origin cold brewed coffee, and smoking in the office? It’s illegal now! Lunch at his desk is a gourmet salad box with vitamin-pumped, protein-enhanced water (still, not sparkling), and he’ll be checking his emails till he falls asleep tonight.

In the sixties, a Samsonite Classic attaché case was one of the coolest business accessories, also carried by secret agents; check out “Funeral in Berlin” (1966).


The design was simple, stylish, and modern, incorporating new materials. If you were flying on business, nothing else would cut the mustard in First Class! Now a diminutive iPad is all we need.

The Trimphone was the nearest you could get to a mobile phone in the sixties.


A long cable with a stretchy curly cord meant that you could carry it around at parties.  It was the first phone without a bell ringer – an electronic warble provided the ring tone. Complete with an illuminated dial and a new type of handset, it was ideal for a swinging sixties pad. Of course, you couldn’t buy one; they had to be rented from the GPO for a few extra shillings a quarter.

In days gone by we had to actually travel to meetings and very rarely knew what people looked like if we dealt with them from any distance. Now we have the technology to collaborate in a world of video links, group discussions, and virtual meetings all in one convenient online location.

Modern technologies are fine for exchanging formal knowledge, but they don’t work well to help you get to know colleagues on a more personal level. Social media might help fill this gap, but it doesn’t replace the dialogue, banter and office gossip that used to take place in the break room or canteen.




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