For what we are about to lose…

Criteo’s Head of Workplace Experience EMEA, Mike Walley, takes us on a journey back in time this month. We should warn any Millennials reading this (probably on your tablets) that this column may include ‘tech’ you’ve never heard of.

I read a news report recently, about Fax Machines. Unbelievably, it seems the NHS still has 900 fax machines in operation throughout the country. I was very surprised as it has been ten years since they were high on the list of services we had to build into an office. Then I remembered how pivotal to business life they used to be before being killed off by scanners and email.

I remember how, first as an IT manger and then a workplace manager, the fax machine was a painful constant in life. The first ‘spam’ was fax spam. I remember coming to the office each morning to find yards of expensive fax paper on the floor, with adverts for office furniture, advice on building rates and even new fax machines! We couldn’t turn the machine off at the end of each day as, mixed in amongst this spam, would be documents we actually wanted.

Then I discovered a thing call the Fax Preference Service. Apparently, you could send your fax number in and it would be added to (or taken off?) a list and you would receive no more spam faxes. I was very excited and gladly signed up. Predictably, once I had sent the number in, the volume of spam increased so drastically we had to get a new phone number. Cyber security was absolutely not a thing back in the day.

But I digress. The whole fax thing got me thinking about what other staples of the workplace have gone, are about to go or could possibly go in the future – and the consequences this might have.

How about…the private office? Remember ‘the boss wants to see you in his office’? Nowadays, it is much more likely to be ‘Fred is looking for you. He says meet him for a latté in breakout area ‘Fandango’ near the ping pong table.’

I am generally a fan of the egalitarian approach to space usage, probably because I was too junior to be impacted when all the managers got evicted from their private offices in the name of open plan design. But we have been left with a problematic legacy. No one thought about how many meetings got held in those offices. So when they all got taken away, it effectively reduced the number of small meeting spaces, and the population competing for the remaining meeting rooms was increased by all those lost souls who had to learn how to book a room for ad hoc meetings that used to be held in their office. The fallout from this is only really getting addressed now, as we learn to build phone booths and focus rooms into our floorplans. A great example of unintended consequences, but I don’t see the private office making a return anytime soon. Not with real estate prices where they are today.

The telephone: By which I mean the big lump of plastic and circuit boards that is tied to the desk by a cable. I mean, really? Other than call centre workers, who actually uses a fixed landline now? We all have mobile phones. Even if you do use a landline to make an outgoing call, the second someone asks for the best number to get hold of you…we all reply with our mobile number. I most certainly do, as I am never at my desk (but that’s another article!). I think they are soon to join that list of (once) essential technologies that were wiped out by the smartphone. The e-waste guys are going to be buried in handsets soon.

The Ballpoint Pen: Ok, I am sticking my neck out on this one. But when I think about it, the only time I use a ballpoint pen is to take notes in a meeting. I am like an acolyte of Kim Jong Un in North Korea, ostentatiously noting down words of wisdom and action items to reinforce the fact I am listening and taking it all in. The truth is, I’d rather do it on my computer, as later I can never decipher what I have written. The trouble is that everyone always assumes you are just doing your emails and not paying attention if you are typing during a meeting. We should also consider the environmental impact. A ballpoint pen is classic single-use plastic and the main manufacturer sells 14 million pens EVERY DAY. If we gave up taking notes in meetings we could have a major impact on the volume of plastic on the planet. I rather hope the writing is on the wall for the humble pen.

So, as we enter 2019, I am excited at all the possibilities the New Year holds, and curious to see if I will still be noting down someone’s landline number in a notebook with a ballpoint pen.

I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2019.