Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Productivity and communication, nineties style

I worked in an office when emails were in their infancy. I set up the company email addresses at the music PR company Media Village in London in 1997, but my colleagues barely used them because their clients didn't.

Every hour our 28K modem would noisily dial in, pause, and then deliver an occasionally useful missive before crashing. It was a source of wonder to me.

The primary way of doing business was verbal. Firing information back and forth across the office, or out of the building on landlines. Meetings happened a lot.

The two sacrosanct items in the office were the fax machine and the A4, lined, hardback phone messages book, which had a pencil attached to it by string.

If someone was out of the office or unable to take a call, you got up from your desk and wrote down who had called, their number and what they wanted.

The fax machine sat on a pedestal in the middle of the room. I remember occasions when an important fax was due, we would crowd round the machine as it spluttered into life. A confirmed deal meant we would all get paid at the end of the month.

But mostly it was phone work, calling people to shoot the breeze, hustle, set up another meeting, remind them you were there or share opinions on new records or gigs you'd seen each other at the night before.

Doing business this way is a dying art. Email, as David Hepworth notes, has taken the performance element out of it.

This morning I wrote five emails before 7am. In 1997, the earliest I would call a non-colleague was 9am and that was only if there was something very urgent going on.

The same was true of other companies. The phone would only ever start ringing in the office at around 10.30am. People just wouldn't be in the right frame of mind to have a telephone conversation before then - it was just rude to think they would.

Often the person you were calling wouldn't be in. You'd leave a message with a colleague (presumably to be written in their phone messages book) or, if they were a big deal, their PA.

If they wanted speak to you, those calls would come back in the afternoon. If they didn't, etiquette demanded you wait until the next day before you call again.

Or you'd write them a letter, which seems positively Victorian, nowadays.

No comments:

Post a comment