Amidst the holiday shopping frenzy, Charles Dickens’ classic story, A Christmas Carol, is a reminder of the perils of a life spent in the pursuit of money – and that there’s a place in the underworld for bosses who don’t give adequate time off.

But this isn’t all we can learn from A Christmas Carol, according to David Charnick, an English academic who leads a literary walk of London. In a blog posthe says this story gives us a peek into the conditions of office work in Victorian London. It may surprise a modern reader to know that put-upon employee Bob Cratchit worked at the home of boss-from-hell Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge had a pair of rooms for himself, and the rest was used by Cratchit and other employees during business hours.

In 1843 when A Christmas Carol was published, Charnick noted that “most business was still being carried out in coffee houses, counting houses and merchants’ homes.” It wasn’t until the late 19th Century that office buildings became common. 

The East India Company was among the first companies to erect blocks of offices in London. And 1864 was the year two major companies began building office buildings to be rented out to business tenants – the City Offices Company Ltd and the City of London Real Property Company Ltd.

By the late 19th Century, office buildings were common, and hydraulic lifts (elevators) made taller buildings more desirable – especially higher floors.

Office buildings have since become ubiquitous worldwide, but it was a new concept at the time and was reflective of societal changes that needed separate spaces where companies could work together. Coworking could be seen as another major progression in work culture that’s just in its infancy but that values a healthy work-life balance and cooperation over hierarchies. It could make what came before downright Dickensian.