Things you rarely see in the 2011 office

Despite renowned architect Frank Duffy claiming that the modern office is on its way out, it remains the base for the majority of people from 9 til 5. But new ways of working combined with new technology have made obsolete pieces of furniture that were, until recently, stalwarts in the office – and home.

1. The Desk
Experts (read consultants) in new ways of working would have us believe that the humble office desk is dead. Instead of being chained to our own personal bit of mdf, we will work in everything from office break-out spaces to cafes, drop-in meeting facilities and the kitchen table. But nothing has quite replaced the desk for sheer ergonomic comfort, as anyone who has spent a day hunched over a laptop in Starbucks will testify.  The size and shape of the desk has certainly changed – gone are the massive L shaped desks which took up half a room. Instead smaller desks, or collaborative benches are popular. And even the big law firms where massive mahogany desks were passed down the generations from father lawyers to son lawyers, have gone (but probably only to the home office).

2.Tea trolleys
The distant rattle of the tea trolley was the highlight of most office workers’ afternoons. The steaming aluminum tea pot would hove into sight, and all work was forgotten as workers queued up in soup-kitchen style for their brew and a slice of, often homemade, cake. Sadly the nearest most workplaces get to the tea trolley is the sandwich man and his crate of tepid sandwiches which have already been polluted by a circular London commute at exhaust pipe height.

3. Clocking off machine
Clocking off machines were a permanent fixture in most offices, ensuring that you were measured not by what you produced, but by the minutes you spent chained to your desk (or at least in the office). While some factories, and even places like MacDonalds, still have them, they have largely disappeared from most offices meaning that workers may actually get judged by their performance, and not their ability to work the system – did bosses really think we didn’t share clock in cards?

4. Office nameplates
Back in the day before even the CEO sat in an open plan environment anyone who was anyone had an office, and even if you didn’t get a view, you always got a name plate – usually with both your name (not first name of course because that would be too friendly) and job title. They were designed partly as a source of information about the occupant, but mainly to instill fear and awe in any subordinate forced to knock on said door. The most fearsome name plate always belonged to the head secretary whose office overlooked …

5. The typing pool
Although you could argue that the modern-day call centre is very much like the post-war typing pool, it doesn’t come close to the uniformity both in dress and behavior of 100 touch typists in perfect synchronisation being watched by a matron in her 50s to ensure that no gossip, mistakes or short skirts left the typing pool to distract the rest of the business.

6. The telephone table chair
Remember the telephone table? It sat in the hall from the early part of the last century until the mobile home telephone made the sofa a more preferred spot to take a long call. Ebay is now deluged with hundreds of ‘vintage’ models.

Next for the chop will be filing cabinets (paperless office anyone?), pedestals will be replaced by those funky lockers and in-trays will become obsolete in the new paperless mobile world. Are you feeling nostalgic yet?


Cathy Hayward