Quiz time: When you visit an office and see the staff working in jeans and T-shirts, are you shocked at the lack of professionalism, or do you neglect to notice it because you're too impressed by the prompt, friendly service you received?
Not too long ago, the term "casual Fridays" didn't even exist, and it was unheard of to call a client by his or her first name. Today, young business leaders value results above the rules they consider to be outdated. "Most [young entrepreneurs] are determined to create the kind of results-oriented, no-nonsense environment they craved when they weren't in a leadership position," says Bruce Tulgan, author of Work This Way (Hyperion) and co-owner of RainmakerThinking Inc., a New Haven, Connecticut, management consulting firm that specializes in Gen X issues. "They're sidestepping the kind of rules that have no connection to [their goals]."
But as young businesses grow, etiquette may become a necessity when working with international clients. "For a while, it was [only important] who developed the quickest chip," says Lyndy Janes, co-owner of The Workshoppe, an image and etiquette consulting company in Los Gatos, California. The firm caters to Silicon Valley "computer geeks," the mainstay of young, nonconforming entrepreneurs. "But as you grow, you mix with other cultures. You're dealing with other people, and you have to show them respect. I think young [businesspeople] realize that."
So is this another case of growing up and conforming? Not necessarily. Traditionalists may have to loosen up to gain the respect of young entrepreneurs. "If I walk into an environment where everybody looks like a stuffed shirt, I get nervous," says Tulgan. "Are these folks stuck in the workplace of the past?"
As for young entrepreneurs, Bermuda shorts and other casual attire may be acceptable in the office, but eventually they'll need to learn which fork is which for formal business meals. "With personal and dining etiquette, [there are] some basic rules," says Janes. "Once you know them, you can bend them. It's when you don't know the rules and you bend them, you show yourself up."
Out: Suit and tie
In: T-shirt and jeans
Out: Two-hour executive lunch
In: Half-hour lunch meeting at McDonald's
Out: Corner offices and cubicles
In: Big, open office spaces with no walls
Out: Mr., Mrs. and Ms.
In: Calling clients by their first names
Out: Water-cooler gossip
In: Pinball tournaments in the corporate game room
Walk into the offices of FitLinxx, and you might just catch sight of a game of one-on-one Nerf hoops, a workout in the fitness center or a "cross-departmental" meeting taking place--with employees shouting instructions across the center atrium of the office. But one thing is conspicuously absent from this office.
"A necktie cuts off oxygen to the brain and doesn't let you think," jokes Keith Camhi, 32, co-founder of FitLinxx, a Stamford, Connecticut, manufacturer of computerized personal training systems for the rehabilitation and fitness industries. "I think people would be surprised to see a young, high-tech company with employees who wear suits."
Camhi, who founded the company with partner Andy Greenberg, 32, finds the relaxed office offers unique advantages to the company. "It's a competitive advantage in hiring," says Camhi. "The nature of the office makes it more team-oriented with less barriers. You come off the elevator, walk into our space, and you know there's something different going on here than in a traditional office."
Although he admits to donning a suit when making sales calls to more traditional offices, Camhi sees his company as an example of the future of office culture. "Casual [dress] lends itself to a relaxed, cross-functional work environment. The suit-and-tie office is a sign of a more constrained, slow-moving, formal environment that just doesn't fit our culture."
FitLinxx, (203) 316-5151, ext. 5118, http://www.fitlinxx.com
RainmakerThinking Inc., (203) 772-2002, ext. 104, http://www.rainmakerthinking.com
The Workshoppe, (877) B-POLITE, http://www.theworkshoppe.com
For reprints and licensing questions, click here.