Five Old-School Business Practices Worth Another Look

05.08.2013 | Madeline Landis

In this age of rapid technical and social innovation, where “new” is deemed as “best,” and the next big thing is always around the corner, norms in the workplace are evolving at a similarly rapid pace. While much of this innovation has led to improvements in the workplace, some of the ways in which things were done “back in the day” were not broken and required no fixing. In fact, evidence points to how, in some instances, going “old school” may just be the most innovative idea on the table.

In his article, “Old-School Business Practices Worth Bringing Back,” (Harvard Business Review blog; April 11, 2013) John Coleman highlights five mid-20th-century business practices that are worth resurrecting. Below are highlights:

  1. Dress well. Business culture, particularly in the U.S., has grown increasingly casual over the years, but recent studies have shown a connection between dressing well and professional success. That doesn’t mean we need to spend lots of money or return to the formality of a three-piece suit, “But it might mean trading Dwight Schrute for Don Draper once in a while and aspiring to an occasional concern for aesthetics,” says Coleman.
  2. Make meetings distraction-free. Active, engaged participation in meetings – whether by phone or in person – is on the decline with distractions from smart devices. Coleman cites a study in which half of all respondents admitted to checking their phones in meetings and suggests that participants are “dumbed down” by distraction. Avoiding distraction from modern devices would enable participants to become more fully engaged and meetings would be more productive. “It can also shorten meeting length,” says Coleman, “as participants push for conclusion when they get bored rather than passing the time playing Angry Birds.”
  3. Lengthen lunch. While eating lunch at your desk may make sense during particularly busy times or in an effort to get home early for a family commitment, more leisurely lunch breaks might also contribute to your productivity. Coleman cites expert opinion that people who take lunch breaks in general are healthier and more productive. And finding more time to connect with colleagues over a long lunch can strengthen relationships at work, also contributing to greater workplace productivity.
  4. Be punctual. Back in the day before mobile phones, punctuality was essential because there simply wasn’t a way to let someone know you were running late. With the convenience of modern technology, we often think it’s OK to run late or push back a meeting as long as we text or email in advance to let the other participants know. However, being on time still influences how others view us. It signals to others that we are reliable and we value their time. It can also decrease the costly impact of wasted time. In fact, Coleman cites a study that found staff lateness costs the UK economy £9 billion per year!
  5. Take a real vacation. Much has been written on the benefits of taking vacations and truly disconnecting from the workplace. Given the ever-present connection provided by smartphones, this might be truer today than it was back in the 1950s. It’s worth stepping back and reminding yourself to safeguard your vacation how and when you can. If done right, the end result should be physical and mental rejuvenation, which can lead to greater productivity upon your return to the workplace.

While these basic ideas make perfect sense to most of us, the implementation is often much harder in the current business climate. At Communiqué PR, we strive to put these old-school principles into practice. If the collective workforce does their part to change themselves and speaks up to create change within their organization, norms can slowly shift. According to Coleman, we may all be happier and more productive as a result.




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