When office life was just, well, very civilised…


I fail to understand why people think technology in the workplace is a benefit.

When I worked for Microsoft I remember attending a presentation from a Seamless Connectivity Evangelist (I kid you not) who told us that in the near future we would all be able to manage our emails sitting at home in our beds using something called “a tablet.”

I only asked one question. It was “why would I want to do that?”

The erosion of what we seem these days to call “red lines” between work and home is a backwards step.

There is nothing good about an “always on” culture.

In my first job as a junior “bag carrier” to the great and good at Shell in London I used to love arriving at Shell-Mex House to be greeted with a salute from a uniformed doorman. A leisurely stroll to my office on the 10th floor involved a lot of “good morning” greetings and hallway chats with people, all of whom had time to stop and talk.

I would arrive in my office following my daily humourous (well it wore a bit thin after three years) exchange with the chap in the next office to me whose name was Paul Darling. So our day started everyday with him saying “Good morning Love” and me replying “Good Morning Darling.” Well, it made me smile.

I enjoyed my first cup of coffee of the morning delivered to my desk by my secretary (I had my own secretary even as a junior bag carrier). I read through a couple of newspapers. Then dictated a few memos to my secretary before disappearing for at least a two-hour lunch.

Lunch meant alcohol. With or without a comatose journalist as company in “El Vinos”, or a leisurely catch-up with old college friends who popped down from The Law Courts to the “Balls Brothers” wine bar in The Strand, my second home for a while.


After lunch involved a bit of a nap, maybe a phone call or two to parts of the world which had just woken up, reviewing and editing the draft memos which were re-typed and presented for my signature.

A lovely lady with a tea trolley would visit with tea and sticky buns at 4pm.

Memos were then placed in envelopes and collected by a uniformed Shell courier who would whisk them away with a touch of his finger to his cap. I then tidied up my desk and was out of the door, on the train and home in time for tea.

The memos might be responded to in a couple of days, if urgent.

Nobody ever took work home. I’m not sure we were allowed to, and with a “clean desk policy” anything left on my desk was removed by security officers on their nightly rounds and securely disposed of.

Shell had a club (The Lensbury) for employees in both Shell-Mex House and Shell Centre as well as the country club at Teddington. I may have popped in to the nearest for an early evening drink, but nobody ever discussed work. It would have been thought very bad form at the least.

Somehow these working practices, pretty similar from the lowest like me to the highest like my boss, enabled the world’s biggest oil company to function perfectly well, making very respectable returns on investment for its shareholders.

That’s what I call work-life balance.

Life was good!

This by the way was in the 1970s not the 1870s, but delightfully I don’t think too much had really changed in office life over those one hundred years. It was about to be changed forever, but not in my opinion for the better.


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