50 Things You No Longer See in Offices
"What's a facts machine?"
Offices aren’t what they used to be. And that’s a good thing. A study by the Centre for Economic and Business Research found that workplaces are 84% more effective than they were during the 1970s. And that’s not because office workers back then were lazy layabouts. Today’s offices have better technology, more work-friendly surroundings, and bosses less likely to pop you on the butt as a motivation to try harder.
But it’s hard not to feel nostalgic. Back in 2012, LinkedIn polled working professionals and asked them what’s been disappearing from the modern office. Their “Office Endangered Species” list, which included things like desktop computers, tape recorders, and fax machines, barely scratched the surface. An office in 2017 couldn’t be more different than it was during 2007 or even 1987.
Here are 50 things that were once commonplace in offices across the country, but today are well on their way to extinction. And for more fun trivia, don’t miss the complete list of The 50 Craziest Celebrity Quirks.
An office without an electric typewriter on every desk used to be unthinkable. Today, you’d be lucky to find an old typewriter in your company’s storage.
Every office desk had one. Well, where else were you going to keep your important numbers? Your phone? Also, if you need to inject some modernity into your workspace, check out the 20 Things Every Man Over 40 Should Have in His Office.
Office bar cart
A guy can’t be expected to make it through a workday without his mid-day scotch break, can he? We’re not animals. Speaking of: if you’re dreaming of booze at your desk, it might be one of the Red Flags That Scream You’re in the Wrong Job.
When you “cc” somebody in a work email, that’s shorthand for “carbon copy.” It’s a throwback to when important documents were duplicated with carbon paper. Imagine emails that lead to inky fingers and you get the general idea.
You knew you were important if the company trusted you with the coveted Kinko’s copy card. You had the power to slap that card down on the counter and announce to the staff, “I need these collated and stapled.”
Water cooler hangouts
It wasn’t just a big dispenser full of fresh water. The water cooler was also a respite from the grind of a workday, a place for coworkers to gather and gossip about their colleagues or recount the best lines from their favorite TV shows.
We get our water in bottles now, and interoffice gossip no longer has the ruse of staying hydrated. For more office anthropology, here are 15 Things Dictator Bosses Banned at Their Companies.
It’s hard to fathom anymore that we once needed a single machine just for counting. That’s all a calculator did. Now, we’ve got computers on our desks and in our pockets capable of counting and so much more.
A trackball computer mouse
Remember these things? They used to seem so futuristic and weird, like something out of a Tron movie. Now they seem antiquated and cute, like something out of a Tron movie.
These days, who wears hats to begin with?
When you needed a document delivered faster than regular mail, and FedEx wasn’t a thing that existed yet, people used airmail. The postage was a bit higher so the envelopes were so thin that they almost felt translucent.
Look at any 80s movie about a corporate office, and the bigwigs always had gigantic abstract art on their walls. What was is it about colorful cubes and triangles that conveyed to the world “I’m the guy in charge?”
Pen tray holders
Pens were so vital back in the 20th centuries that they had their own holder. Because you never knew when you might need a pen. Unlike today, when asking for a pen seems as odd as asking a co-worker to light your cigarette.
Or as we call them today, “erasing your browser history.”
Today, a stock ticker are the numbers scrolling across the bottom of the screen on any financial news network. But there was a time when any company needing the most current information on stocks needed a machine that continuously spit out a paper strip with all the latest numbers.
“Hey,” some of you will protest. “We have a fax machine in our office!” Well sure. But when was the last time you actually used it?
Just like text messages, but using (as the New York Times described them in 1988) “bulky, noisy and exasperatingly slow machines.” But, it was texting without emojis, so maybe it was a better world back then.
These things once seemed so futuristic and advanced. Now, using an overhead projector for a presentation makes you look like a retired middle school teacher.
A 1961 trade magazine called Today’s Secretary predicted that the “secretary of the future” wouldn’t have to come to the office till noon, and could take month long vacations because of advances like the “electronic computer.” Turns out, they were kind of right. Secretaries don’t have to come in till noon, because unfortunately their jobs are being phased out. Executive assistants (back to 2017 here) are increasingly rare if not entirely nonexistent these days.
Drip coffee machines
Sorry, old-timey coffee machines. We’re living in a Keurig world now.
With an actual scroll wheel! Every phone call was like playing Wheel of Fortune.
Before our phones became the only recording device we need, these tiny recorders were there to capture every meeting or interview, or even just a passing thought we worried about forgetting.
Required face time with your boss
It used to be the only way to get ahead. The more he or she saw you and interacted with you, the better your chances of nabbing that big promotion. But many of today’s workers rarely see their bosses, and probably couldn’t pick their faces out of a lineup.
Before email and Adobe virtual signing, documents were circulated through an office in a decrepit manilla envelope that could only be closed with a piece of string wrapped around a button. Yes, it was an unwieldy and stupid as it sounds.
If you wanted to be taken seriously as a professional, you had to dress the part. And that meant wearing your fanciest clothes to the office. A suit at the very least, and a tailored three piece suit if you had big career ambitions.
The same dress codes applied for women, and pantyhose was de rigueur in an office setting.
When you needed to get an important document to another floor and didn’t have time to take it there by foot, you could just stick it in a cylindrical container and pop it into a pneumatic tube, which would propel it like a rocket straight to its destination.
Mailing packages for your company in the past involved licking the backs of tiny colorful squares and attaching just enough that the postal service would deliver them to the desired location. Yes, the office of yesterday involved way more licking than you can imagine.
For when you wanted to point at something in presentation but didn’t want to leave your seat or stretch your arms.
If you ever find yourself feeling annoyed by your office equipment—the printer’s too slow, the Internet’s unreliable—just remember that there was a time when making a copy of an important business document meant you had to use a hand-crank.
Twenty years ago, these handheld devices, sometimes called “PDAs” (personal digital assistants), were the must-have accessory of any ambitious office worker.
It was your own little domicile, sans a front door and roof. Most offices tore down those walls for an open office, where everybody shares what’s essentially a big conference room. Is it a step forward or backwards? It’s the latter if you believe a recent headline from Fortune magazine, which declared “It’s Time to Bring Back the Office Cubicle!”
Yes, this was Don Draper’s favorite piece of technology for pitching clients. (You know what else Don Draper liked? Basically this entire list.) Oh, and speaking of Don Draper, check out our interview with Jon Hamm.
Desks with chairs
Sure, fine, they still exist. But they might be gone before you know it, as the standing-desk revolution continues to pick up steam.
Computer screens bigger than a file cabinet
We’re not talking the width, we mean the depth of those old-school computer screens. They could be so big and bulky, there was barely enough room on your desk for a keyboard.
With so many files to keep organized, the desk tray was the only way to protect your work space from drowning in a paper tsunami.
Drawers with spare clothing
When was the last time you saw a colleague stumble into the office first thing in the morning—un-shaven and reeking of last night—only to freshen up with a crisp white dress shirt from his desk and a splash of after-shave? Exactly. It’s no longer 1958.
USB flash drives
There’s got to be a garbage dump somewhere that contains mountains of old flash drives, thousands upon thousands of the tiny devices we once thought were so indispensable.
Swinging arm desk lamps
That adorable, articulated desk lamp from the opening of every Pixar movie was once a mainstay of office desks.
Using sticky notes for reminders
It was the graffiti of any office cubicle, the walls covered in yellow squares, each with a thought or reminder that we were afraid would slip away.
Before the fax machine, offices delivered important documents with something called a telecopier. It had to be attached to a regular phone, and then a call was made to the person you were transmitting. Then they had to connect their telecopier, or something, we’re not entirely sure. It sounds complicated. But at the time, it was a revelation. As a magazine ad from 1966 gushed, you could “Mail letters over the phone!”
Dot matrix printer
Just like an inkjet printers, but louder and slower, and with lots of festive ink smudges.
The corner office for managers/executives
It used to be the white whale of every ambitious young white-collar worker. The new corner office is “I’m working from home.”
Office parties held at the office
Nothing says “let’s have a party” like getting drunk in the conference room. Less office parties at the office means 100% less Xeroxed rear-ends.
It looked like your favorite “Jam Mix 2003” party soundtrack, but it was really storage for all your essential work files.
Great for brainstorming in a world where computers were little more than bulky typewriters.
Onion skin paper
A thin, translucent paper that was ideal for making duplicate copies with carbon paper (see #4 above). It could also disintegrate in your hands if you pressed down too hard.
Like the office water cooler but with paninis.
Not only was smoking allowed in offices, but ashtrays were a workplace staple. Not providing your employees with ashtrays was like welcoming them to start garbage can fires.
Business card holder
There was no point in networking if you didn’t have a place to keep all those business cards you got from new contacts. Every office worker worth his salt carried around a folder full of cards, proof that people had given you a small piece of paper stock with their names on it in exchange for a small piece of paper stock with your name on it.
Standard working hours
Remember coming in at 9am and leaving by 5pm? Yeah, we don’t either.