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From typing to Teams: the history of the M+P secretarial desk (33/50)

Times have changed at the M+P secretarial desk, say Marjo Timmer and Marleen Prinsen. Some 30 years ago, most of the work consisted of typing handwritten reports, but now it ranges from scheduling Teams meetings to human resources and accounts receivable management.

M+P's product has always remained the same: reports with (sound) advice. “But drawing up such reports was totally different at first,” laughs office manager Marjo Timmer. “When I came in 31 years ago, consultants gave me handwritten reports. We had to type them out on a typewriter, fix mistakes with white correction fluid and correction tape, and quite a bit of cutting and pasting. So it made quite a difference who you would work for. Some had much clearer handwriting than others. And your heart sank when someone put in complicated formulas. It was like a giant puzzle to get that right on paper.”

To the postbox

When secretary Marleen Prinsen joined M+P more than 10 years later, we had already developed quite a lot. “The consultants typed their own reports on the computer but we took care of the handling after that: correcting typos and straightening up dodgy sentences, printing, copying, neatly bundling them with a binder machine and then sending them by post. At the end of the day, we took piles of envelopes in the car to take them to the postbox. There were reports in there but also invoices, for example.”

Everything digital

Today, in 2022, not a single sheet of paper is used anymore. Even the existing paper archive with as many as 7,300 reports was recently fully digitised. New reports are emailed to clients as PDFs by the consultants directly. Marjo: “We are actually no longer involved substantively. I used to be able to recite standard advice in no time and knew exactly who was working on which project. That is no longer the case. On the one hand that’s a shame, but on the other, it has made our work more varied. Now, for example, I deal with human resources, payroll and elements of accounting.”

Helping people

Marleen couldn't agree more: “The charm of our work is that you are involved in so many different things. Answering emails, handling claims and invoices, dealing with last minute requests from colleagues. For example, communicating with insurers because someone lost their suitcase at the airport. Figuring out how many miles were driven for a project. Or what the conditions are for a particular grant. That service orientation is what makes it fun. We want to help people.”

Customer in view

During corona times, the latest step in digitisation was accelerated: working from home. Marjo: “These days, I work from home every Tuesday. There I have the exact same workstation as in the office; the same switch board, the same calendar. The customer does not notice the difference. And thanks to Teams, we now often opt for video calls. With regular clients, I always had an idea of what they would look like but no idea if that was accurate. Now I know what they look like. That's great!”