Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Modern World of Work

I've been hearing a catchy, clever tune on XM Coffeehouse while driving around town. Modern World by David Wilcox describes how 'this ain't the modern world that I remember.' He's referring to the 60s and 70s rendition of the future. You remember, the one with flying cars, space colonies, smell-o-vision, and Jetson-esque homes and workspaces.

Today's workplace has not been completely Jetson-ized. But if you off-ramped 10 or more years ago, you may be surprised by the workplace a la 2009. Understanding how it has changed provides you with a framework to envision yourself thriving and succeeding as your new on-ramped self. It can also give you important insight for talking about your skills and strengths in interviews and will give you a heads up as to what skills you'll need to polish and/or master.

Here is a brief comparision of what the corporate work world was like when I off-ramped in the early 90s and on-ramped in 2006:


  • The company I worked for (a major corporation) wasn't on the internet!! Businesses still weren't sure about this newfangled e-world. What we did have was a very unfriendly and clunky intranet, with monitors that weighed 50 pounds and took up a big chunk of one's desk!

  • If someone read an interesting article in a professional journal that he/she wanted to share with colleagues, a routing slip was attached, and the magazine was passed from cubicle to cubicle, with each person checking off as he/she read it.

  • Files, busting at their seams, filled people's in boxes. Managing the growing mounds of paper documentation was a constant struggle.

  • The phone rang constantly.

  • Everyone did their work in the office. Project not finished? That meant a mandatory stay at the office as there was no ability to work from home on a laptop.

  • Meetings were held face-to-face in conference rooms and offices.

  • Everyone wore suits.


  • E-mail is everything! Colleagues a cubicle or office away send e-mails all day--interesting articles, updates on client requests, feedback on reports, checking whether you brought lunch or want to order out, etc.

  • The phone doesn't ring very much. Client communication, prospective client communication, and communication with friends and family happen on line the majority of the time during the workday.

  • Microsoft Office rules the work world. I had fancied myself as fairly computer savvy when I on-ramped. The first day on the job I was asked to edit a fairly lengthy powerpoint, replete with fancy graphics and links. I adeptly corrected typos, spelling and syntax----with a pen on the printed copy of the report. How embarrassed I was when I realized I was supposed to do it online!! I felt SO old-fashioned---barely a step away from asking where the typewriter was!! After somehow muddling through the electronic version, I invested in a bunch of how-to books and practiced at home to get my skills up to speed. It became a personal badge of honor on those rare occasions when I could point out a shortcut to one of my younger, and way more e-savvy, colleagues.

  • Meetings often happen virtually. Instead of travelling to meetings, they happen right on everyone's computer. Thanks to meeting software, trainings, client presentations, and proposal meetings can happen without the expense and time drain of everyone being in one location.

  • Suits are worn rarely. Big client presentation? Definitely a suit day. Every other day, however, smart business casual is appropriate. Great slacks, blouses, sweaters, and accessories can definitely get you through many work situations.

  • Laptops make work portable. My company allowed for work to be done at home--a policy that provided flexibility to meet important deadlines without needed to practically move into the office. I appreciated the ability to work from home when necessary. If a snow storm made roads treacherous, I could still put in some hours at home, keep on deadline, and not have to deal with a white knuckle drive.

What hasn't changed:

Your life experience, patience, compassion, and smarts all work together to make you a wonderful asset to the world of work. I admit to being fairly intimidated by my highly intelligent and driven younger colleagues initially. It didn't take long, though, for me to realize that I most definitely had a lot to offer. I happily acted as their sounding board and helped them, as they helped me, too.

You can make a great comeback. It is nothing short of thrilling to imagine the impact you can make!

All the best,


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