1982: The Year This Admin Thing Started

(News Update: 03/08/2018)

I was having a bit of a nostalgia moment today, one of those moments that kick start the drive to get a blog together. We take for granted the technology we have today and the ability to work from home, work flexibly and have an answer to everything at our finger tips, just a Google away. If I could go back to my 16 year old self and tell her about the tech we have today and how what I learnt in those first working years would play the starting point towards me running my own business as a Virtual PA 30 years from then; I doubt I'd believe it. That would just be the stuff of Star Trek and those early sci-fi movies.

It's 36 years since I started working. Crickey! Yes I am that old... I don't feel it... well ok some days maybe ;)

My office career began on 14th June 1982, a week or so after finishing my last O'Level exam, in the regional office for the electrical retailer Rumbelows. I was a clerk/VDU Operator in the Cash Office. One of maybe 30 or more people, all doing the same job. Rows of us in a large office; in a big office building here in Bolton, containing lots of other large departments of a similar layout with dozens of employees doing other clerical roles; all key parts of the business process chain.

old VDUIt was a very paper heavy clerical role, but NO, I didn't work at a typewriter. I worked at a computer known in those days as a VDU terminal. Huge thing with a small curved monitor with a green screen with green text (could have been orange). I seem to recall the keyboard was attached and there was no way of adjusting the screen height or tilt. You had to stop everyone else from typing if you needed to go back and amend a typo, or the system would crash. "System 10!" I think was the appropriate call sign.

In those days everything inputted into the computer system was stored on huge tape drives that were updated over night. The day's number crunching was printed out onto endless reams of continuous paper deposited in neat folded stacks in order for the job your department handled to be passed on to the next department in the chain.

From the shops selling, renting or providing those TV's, music centres, washers, cookers etc to customers on hire purchase schemes (the days before credit cards); I worked in the first part of the head office conveyor belt. The office was lead by a very strict dictator style manageress. No-one was brave enough to stand up to her. You couldn't provide your first name to anyone on the phone; I had to say I was Miss Page; not something you feel at all comfortable with at 16 years old, but you got a severe telling off if a shop manager rang asking for you by your first name. Stationery was controlled and rationed by her. You had to prove your pen had run out before you got a new one. And everyone had to do exactly the same amount of overtime. I was well and truly thrown straight in it for my first year of work. From September the Christmas trade started, so there were NO holidays from September and through to the end of February while we caught up with everything. Not that I was entitled to any holidays in that first year anyway as you had to accrue a full year's employment before accruing any paid leave. I was knackered by the following Easter. I earned about £25-30 per week and I was loaded. That was a lot of money for someone only used to getting a few quid in pocket money beforehand.

Health and wellbeing, as well as ergonomic workstations were an alien concept in those days. I sat on the most uncomfortable office swivel chair there was – the back support was broken, and little other adjustment was possible. Smoking in the office was accepted and done by the majority; I was one of the minority of non-smokers in the time when passive smoking wasn't even considered.

Air conditioning?

There were windows, but on a breezy day there were too many papers to hold down if the window was open too far. There may have been the odd desk fan, but most definitely not one per person. Yes, working conditions were a lot better than in those dark satanic mills of decades earlier, but how far things have moved on now. Can you imagine any of that in the office environment now?

ICL VDUIn the 7 years I worked there, I saw technology move forward if only slightly. We were still in those days before the office computers that we know of today and the storage/sharing of data. There was also a mutiny regarding the regime governed by the office manager, we moved into a larger office area at the back of the building and sat in groups and we got new chairs too. There was a great camaraderie in the office, we were a team and there was always competition and rivalry with other departments.

I moved on to a similar role at Radio Rentals in 1989, still using a VDU terminal and even though the World Wide Web began in 1993, we still didn't have PCs that updated the account information until the following day when I left there in 1996. We did have 1 PC in the office though that we'd use to dial up Equifax to locate post codes on though, and we had a fax machine to get an urgent copy of a document to/from the shops. Such progress!

And, smoke free offices started to become a thing, although there was a lot of conflict around the smoke breaks the smokers got against non-smokers who were expected to have their brew while working. Finally the afternoon office smog was a thing of the past along with waste bin fires too.

With each job the tech moved forward and improved. I'm 6 years into running AdminAnywhere, my Virtual PA business support service. I think in these 6 years everything has moved along so much faster. I know I've learned so much more and developed my admin skills immensely; and continue to do so.

So how will life in the office be in another 30 years? AI and everything else digital is common place in our lives now. What is still to come?