I am old enough to remember using a bundy clock to mark the beginning and end of my work day. Each day, at 8:45am I would pick out the card with my name typewritten (yes typed by a typewriter) at the top and I would slot it into the machine which would time stamp my attendance. And then again, at 5:00pm, I would walk down the stairs, select my card and “bundy out”. If I think about it I can still feel the rhythm that would vibrate up the card into my fingers.
The reason I started work at 8:45am was to create enough time in our working schedule for a fortnightly “early afternoon”. Every two weeks the office closed early and we all rushed off to nearby shops to pay bills, bank cheques and so on. It afforded a small amount of flexibility in our otherwise regimented working lives.
Clearly, this was a time before 24 hour shopping. It was a world that stopped after 6pm.
Inside the office, the decor of the moment was beige. Office landscapes were designed like wagon trains – the management encircling the worker who eeked out their existence in brown hessian covered partitions surrounded by inboxes, outboxes, reading materials and filing cabinets. The only piece of technology to be seen was the Commander telephone. And yes, your desktop really was a desktop – there was not a computer in sight.
And while this environment looked and felt safe, conservative and controlled – it was anything but – for technology was about to create a massive disruption within the workplace – one from which we would never recover.
It began with green screen – or orange screen – computers. Hovering over our desks, they looked like alien eyes peering back at us from unimagined future. Suddenly the activity of “work” shifted from the pad and pen – from the desk – onto the screen connected to a mainframe locked away in a climate controlled room in the basement. We were trained, supported and performance KPI’d. And then slowly it started.
A business case here and a business case there, and soon “desktop computers” began to sprout across the office. They were like great silent triffids gobbling up our old work practices and expectations. Some of my older colleagues gave up and took early retirement. Others retreated further up the management chain, defending their positions with computer-literate PAs and assistants.
Eventually the desk was replaced with the desktop.
We now face yet another wave of disruptive change. Many now cling as tightly to their laptop computers and email as my colleagues once did with their pens, pads and sense of tradition. But those days are over. The future of work isn’t about desks or even offices. It’s mobile and it’s already here. It’s time to turn it on.