The evolution of technology and globalisation of services has enabled “growth” miracles over the last decade. Not so long ago, companies such as Instagram, WeWork and Snapchap didn’t even exist. That’s not to mention the likes of Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Twitter, Whatsapp, Reddit, WeChat, Telegram… and I could go on! Today, these companies are worth millions, even billions. Global brands dictating how we communicate with each other. An unbelievable feat given that in the late 1900s social media barely existed, with the exception of a few university labs (anybody remember MiRC?). Fast-forward two decades and currently more than 3.5 users log into social media channels on the regular - almost 45% of the total global population!
The pace and scale of connectivity, innovation and growth is astonishing, no doubt. It has improved our modern work lives in many ways – but has it inhibited it in others? Surely there are numerous lessons we can learn from life a couple of decades ago when it comes to workplace productivity, work-life balance, and just life in general too. Here are a few of my thoughts on the matter…
1. Crisis management in the era of dial-up Internet
In the old days of dial-up, (Zillenials might need to Google this!), it took at least a coffee to connect to the Internet and a full three-course meal to send an email. This meant that workplace crises were resolved not via emails, but through talking.
In many ways, the resolution of office issues in person was both more effective and time-efficient as, after all, think about how much time is wasted by email chains and the frequency in which miscommunication occurs! Plus, it was fun. Not to mention great for building team morale – and, as we all know, it doesn’t matter how bright your employees are; if they can’t function as a team, there’s no hope for your project management capability let alone crisis management function!
Think about the definition of teamwork: “the process of working collaboratively with a group in order to achieve a goal.” Then consider whether email/WhatsApp/text/carrier pigeon/etc. or actual human interaction is the best way to ensure good teamwork is an integral part of your workplace. Surely even the most email-enthused among us have to admit that nothing quite beats the real thing! So there we have lesson number one from the ‘90s and early ‘00s: when it comes to managing crises, or indeed project management in general, type less and talk more.
2. Streaming TV vs “night network”: Doing more with less
Up until the mid 1980s, TV programmes finished at midnight. The “night network” (i.e. 24-hour TV broadcasting) only began in the late ‘80s and in some places programmes weren’t televised until 6pm. Again, shocking, I’m sure, to any younger readers! The pros of today’s very different media landscape are obvious. More reach, more accountability, more choice. What about the cons, however?
Less content in the ‘80s and ‘90s meant there were more opportunities to focus, analyse and ‘experience’ the messages being fed to us. Basically, less was more – a concept that can be applied to many aspects of our work lives. As David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress-Free Productivity, reminds us: the most productive people on this planet focus more on less, thereby giving their full attention to every material they consume, each task at hand. Allen asserts: “Your mind needs rest and free space, regularly, to function at its best. If it’s overloaded with commitments, inappropriately managed, its capabilities are seriously sub-optimized, for creative thinking and decision-making.”
In the modern workplace therefore – with the average brain inundated with 34GB of data throughout the day – it only makes sense to schedule regular digital downtime, daily. Fill that digital void with a ‘water cooler’ discussion, a good gossip or coffee with a colleague. Even five minutes away from your screen can make a massive difference to your productivity levels. If your boss tells you off, tell them to read this article!
And so we come to lesson number two: Sometimes it’s better to do more with less. I encourage you to consider how you can incorporate this philosophy into your next project planning session.
3. The war of “looking up”: Google vs. Encyclopedias
I remember being 10 years old in the late 1980s and finding out about the layers of the human body by reading my parent’s Encyclopedia (yep, those big old-fashioned books, not www.encyclopedia.com!) Then, simply by turning the page, it was possible to randomly educate oneself on the concept of “humidity”. The joys of alphabetically ordered information! In today’s digital world, while there are more and instant answers to life’s questions, there are also missed opportunities. That level of tactile engagement with our facts is sorely missing in our current Siri-Alexa fact-checking era.
It’s not too late to include a New Year’s Resolution to your list. Why not challenge yourself and colleagues to make a semi-regular trip to the library in the name of both professional development and project research? Browse through marketing magazines, be inspired by the greats of literature, design, philosophy and art, and maybe pick up a few recent titles to read just for pleasure. You may be surprised at how even the most seemingly irrelevant reads can contribute to your knowledge, work- and life-wise.
Lesson numero tre: books are best, always!
4. Real-life vs virtual relationships
In a study commissioned by Pernod Picard in 2019, out of 3,053 adults polled 60% admitted that they spent less time catching up with friends since the world became more digitalised. Meanwhile, 55% of respondents claimed that the digital landscape had made their friendships “more superficial”. Undoubtedly, social media plays a crucial role in today’s workplace (said sharing this on LinkedIn!). Equally though, it can be easy to forget that friendships are a matter of the heart and not a matter of emojis. The same goes for any relationship – with colleagues, clients, even your boss! While you may not adore each equally, there’s no denying that it’s more important than ever to pick up that phone, grab that cup of coffee to catch up and connect, to hear the sound of each other’s voices talking about even life’s silliest things. If we want to build truly meaningful relationships, the ones that ensure both our personal and work lives remain fulfilled and fruitful, we must strive to keep things ‘real’. I guess then that’s lesson number four!
Life nowadays is more connected, more instant, and more ‘visible’ than ever. Unlike the ‘80s, ‘90s and even early 2000s, we have all the channels in the world – whether they’re TV or social – to choose from. It’s easy and it’s accessible and, for the most part, it’s great. But not always. Sometimes we need to turn off the telly, close the tab, delete the digital, at least for a moment. So pick up that book, take a walk outside, call that long-lost friend. Let life get a little more ‘analogue’ to replace some of that insistent, modern-day ‘digital’. You never know, you may actually enjoy it more than you think!
Food for thought: How can you adopt a more ‘analogue’ approach in your workplace and/or project management? I’d love to hear what you think.