Old-school practices: Can they teach us how to break bad business habits?

For Generation Y and our modern first world problems, battling a Candy Crush addiction, or choosing what to have for dinner on Tinder may be the most arduous tribulation contemplated all day. In between managing our daily stresses, we may begin to wonder: how did we get from allowing three business days to respond, to expecting an email reply within a few hours?

The corporate world has long moved on from the day-to-day quirks of what once constituted ‘business as usual’. We can be relieved that chain-smoking in meetings and typewriters are no longer usual practice. But have we replaced retro routines with bad business habits?
Generally speaking, ‘the way we do things around here’ has improved for the better. But not everything. A few elementary suavities have since been forgotten, and lie six feet under the rubble of complacency.
The notion of dressing to Impress
We may look back on the fashions of the young Generation X professionals and say, ‘Dear God, what were they thinking?’ But style aside, one thing was consistently on trend, and that was dressing smartly and sharply for the office. Today, the standard has slipped considerably. You don’t have to look very hard to notice the expansive spectrum of unusual outfits that are suddenly considered ‘corporate’ wear.
The train ride into the city has become a chaotic catwalk for the bizarre and the shoddy. Professionals are regularly dressed in a strange mix of a corporate suit, and items belonging to the wardrobe of a blind Sunday school teacher. Others are dressed in the usual office wear but jazz it up with a hint of Vanilla Ice inspired apparel. Fitting the whole of Joseph’s Technicolor dream coat into one shirt and tie combination is not easy on the eyes on any day of the week. It leaves the fitted suit and ironed shirt club in disarray as to whether they missed the memo about Dressing-Like-A-Druggie Tuesdays.
Whilst I am not advising counsel to the world’s serial stylists, I am confident that wearing a blazer with acid wash Chambry joggers, and open toe heeled sandals is a punishable offence in some jurisdictions. Although, it may be enough to get any persecutor over the line for an insanity defence.
Work doesn’t have to be a fashion show, but it goes without saying that first impressions are lasting impressions. Your appearance speaks volumes about how seriously you take your work, and your ability to perform. If you don’t believe it, try taking your boss seriously when he’s dressed leggings, jelly sandals, and a collared shirt. Your confidence in his ability to run a cut-throat forensic accountancy firm may start to dwindle.
Clients don’t want to see short skirts and stained suit pants – unless it’s Friday, you’re in a bar, and it’s past 9 pm. If you’re dressing the part, you’ll soon find yourself feeling and acting more confidently. You’ll stand a little taller and walk a little prouder.
Meetings without phones
Once upon a time, men and woman were strong, independent beings who did not need an iPhone to complete them. My research tells me, that during this time, meetings were conducted without anyone checking their Facebook or Instagram. This leads me to conclude that most employees had no choice but to be engaged during meetings, or at the very least, try to look awake.
As essential as phones are, the rise of the technological companion has also lead to an increase of dazed disengagement around the office. We allow phones to fill spots of difficulty in our day; when we need a break half way through our first email, when we have an overflowing in-tray, or when we can’t get through another report summary without a little Candy Crush. As the ultimate tool for procrastination, we use it to switch our focus to something that doesn’t require thought. And we can’t leave it alone – suitably, the BlackBerry has been nicknamed the ‘crackberry’ on Wall Street. Mobile phones have become a functional dysfunction.
Death to phones during work is a highly preposterous and unrealistic proposal. It’s just not going to happen, given phones are often used for work anyway. Conducting meetings or coffee catch ups in the absence of a phone is a brave and daring venture in such a modern age. However, mankind is remarkable, and if it’s been done before we can do it again. Stricter self-discipline when using phones at work will force us to give our full focus and attention to the task at hand. We’ll be more engaged and may even contribute meaningfully to discussions.
There is nothing more frustrating than giving a presentation, and noticing several members of your team busily checking their Twitter feed. You can guess they’re not tweeting about your creative slideshow transitions, or how you’ve totally nailed your talk on Jurisdictional Error from Erroneous Assumption that Formed a Critical Plank in the Federal Court’s Recent Decision.
No one would have the audacity to pull out a newspaper in the middle of a presentation, so what makes pulling out a phone acceptable? Whilst Monday morning meetings aren’t solving the world’s problems, being present mentally as well as physically will give our colleagues the respect they deserve. We’re there because we have to be, so let’s engage.
Common courtesy
Thirty years ago, how did they manage without emails and text? Punctual organised and without an option to shy away from face to face meet ups or phone calls. Nowadays with email, it’s quick and easy to drop someone a line to let them know you’re running late. It’s simple to reschedule. Or to cancel completely, if you realise your meeting coincides with the three-day acrobatics course you purchased on Grab One. This convenience has allowed us leniency with timely and courteous responses.
A text does the job, so why bother with a phone call?  We no longer need to time manage, we simply reschedule everything around what’s urgent, and what we feel like doing. Not to mention, email has become the most convenient means of avoiding difficult conversations. There certainly is merit in being able to think up a carefully worded response to awkward emails about overdue reports and your client’s terminally ill cat.
Whilst avoiding potentially tense and awkward conversations is a bonus, email doesn’t leave us room to build rapport with clients, colleagues or connections. It doesn’t matter what year you were born in, a phone call or a face to face meeting is a far more genuine and sincere response than carefully worded email will ever be. Solution: pick up the damn phone.
Old school courtesies are not dead, they’re just often forgotten. Unlike velvet flares and mullet haircuts, they have a central place in business. We don’t need to wait for smart dress, respect and proper communication to come back in season. We can foster these good habits ourselves, and create new old business practices by way of example.

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