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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

Office Life in the 1980s and now in 2020

Working in offices is a fairly new idea.

Thousands of years ago in Egypt, scribes sat out in the sum keeping accounts on tablets of clay. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that true offices showed up. They were damp, cramped monastery cells where monks sat, laboriously copying manuscripts.

In the 18th century a new kind of office appeared; the sort Charles Dickens described in ‘A Christmas Carol.’

It was a counting house. The kind of place Old Scrooge himself worked.

And then two things came together to enable the office as we now know it - the elevator and steel frame. These advances led to the construction of the home insurance building in Chicago in 1885 – the first ‘skyscraper’ in the world - with 4 floors.

Over the years things improved – with new inventions and gadgets to make things easier. The office evolved and grew; the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai, for example, now has 163 floors.

But how has office life changed for the people who work there over the years?

We thought we’d go back 40-years and think of things people might have said in the office then and their equivalents today:

Office Culture:

1980: ‘Bill is sitting next to me smoking a cigarette’

2020: ‘Bill is sitting across the office drinking a raspberry and banana smoothie.’

1980: ‘There was a ton of scandal at the office Christmas party, I got absolutely smashed out of my mind’

2020: ‘The company has donated money to charity this year.’

1980: ‘Sally is on holiday for two-weeks, can you call back when she returns?’

2020: ‘Sally is on holiday for two-weeks, you’ll get her on email.’

1980: ‘Polly’s desk is lovely. She has pictures of her husband, her daughter and the grandchildren, 3 pot plants, postcards from the team, a desk tidy with different coloured biros (overflowing with paper clips), her lucky ornament from Ireland, a couple of bottles of perfume for those special meetings and sometimes fresh flowers. Her cardigan is always on the back of her chair’

2020: ‘Polly couldn’t find a hot desk this morning.’

1980: ‘Rosie is off sick today; she should be back next Monday’

2020: ‘Rosie is off sick today so she’s working from home.’

1980: ‘We had a team high - five’

2020: ‘We had a team Zoom call.’

1980: ‘Hugh is having an expensive three course boozy lunch with clients on expenses’

2020: ‘Hugh has just nipped out for a coffee with a client.’

1980: ‘All the board members at our company are male’

2020: ‘All the board members at our company are male’ (not much difference there then).

1980: ‘Wow, I got three bottles of spirits and chocolates for the family from the supplier’

2020: ‘The supplier gave me a lift to the station.’


1980: ‘Pete earns a lot more than most of us. He’s on A$10,000 (average salary AS$ 8,800)

2020: ‘Pete earns a lot more than most of us. He’s on A$120,000 plus benefits (average salary A$ 80,800).

1980: ‘Wow, Dallas and The Dukes of Hazard are on TV tonight’

2020: ‘ Wow – I’m going to my Zumba class tonight.’

1980: ‘Freda has bought an expensive house in Adelaide. It was A$35, 000 (average house price in Adelaide A$29,000)

2020: ‘Freda has bought an expensive house in Adelaide. It was A$750,000 (average house process in Adelaide A$550,000).

1980: ‘We’re going to see that new movie ‘Top Gun’ tonight with that young actor Tom Cruise in it’

2020: ‘We haven’t been to the movies since the start of the pandemic.’

1980: ‘Louise has a really expensive car, it cost A$10,000 (average cost of car A$7500)

2020: Louise has a really expansive car, it cost $60,000 (average cost of car A$45,000).


1980: ‘Tom is just changing the ribbon on the typewriter’

2020: ‘Tom is just switching his laptop off and back on.’

1980: ‘Sid has just photocopied the invite and agenda 60 times and posted them out. It was a real pain – the paper ran out twice and jammed three times – Xerox are coming to fix it next week’

2020: ‘Sid sent an all-company email.’

1980: ‘We have a state of the art lever – arch file system as back-up’

2020: ‘We’re backed up in the Cloud.’

1980: ‘I’II just get the tip-ex out and correct those errors’

2020: ‘I’II just delete that sentence.’

1980: ‘I’m collecting up those 30-pages from the fax – it’s the monthly report’

2020: ‘I’II check the reporting app to get the real time position.’

1980: ‘I’ve just read the newspaper so I’II initial the sheet to say I’ve done it’

2020: ‘I’ve just spent ten minutes on the Internet.’

1980: ‘Sarah been clearing her in-tray, the papers were overflowing’

2020: ‘Sarah’s cleared her inbox.’

1980: ‘I’m sneaking out with my mates to slag the company off about not getting a pay rise’

2020: ‘I’m sending an email with 😢 in it.’

1980: ‘I’m just going to leave the office; it’s 5-30pm’

2020: ‘I’m just going to check my email – it’s 5-30am.’

1980: ‘Phil sent 20 speculative CVs out in the post last week’

2020: ‘Phil’s updated his LinkedIn profile.’

1980: ‘Margaret is just having a look at the computer printouts’

2020: ‘Margaret just having a look at the spreadsheet.’

We wonder what a similar exercise will look like in 2060?

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