Business Logistics

Rant: Business Etiquette's Broken: Here's The Fix

I’ve referred in this space before to the fetid state of London, a stinking, uninhabitable stew that resembles nothing more than a machine for making Man miserable.

I’m hardly the first to curse it. For Patrick Hamilton in his marvellous novel The Slaves of Solitude it assumes terrifying animal form.

“London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels.”

William Blake had a similar sense of the desperation it engenders:

“I wander thro' each charter'd street,

Near where the charter'd Thames does flow.

And mark in every face I meet

Marks of weakness, marks of woe.”

On the right day, in the right mood, London can be marvellous, of course, but human agents have made it awful. We rush in and out at the same time as if hell bent on complicating matters as far as is possible. We pursue the same spots of the city and set ourselves impossible tasks. We design in failure and stress.

There’s not much I can say to people who work day in and day out in London or its equivalents all over the world — apart from ‘sorry’ and ‘good luck’ — but for those like me that visit the city once or twice a week for business meetings, we can do so much better. We need a manifesto for change: here’s a draft.

Timings. It is crazy to have a meeting before 10.30. The routes into London are stuffed like plugholes matted in hair and old soap. It is uncivilised and it drives worse, even inhumane behaviour: heavily pregnant women stand, large backsides straddle two seats, commuters exist in their own bubbles and resist contact and interaction. But swerve the rush hour and the journey becomes tolerable and cheaper.

Dress code. The business suit has to go. A relic of the Edwardian era, what are we saying when we wear it anyway? In the current vogue, without a tie it is no more than wave in the direction of convention. The suit costs a fortune, creases horribly like its criminal partner the shirt, requires proprietary cleaning techniques and has quasi-magnetic affinities with smoke, gum and newspaper print. It is not warm enough in winter and too warm in summer. Casual dress should be accepted, welcomed.

Meeting points. We need somewhere quiet, serving drinks and simple food and within walking distance of stations. Make an approved list of such joints and stick with it. Don’t attempt to wow me with the cool, new place. I don’t know where it is and very soon it will no longer be cool.

No handshakes. Shaking hands with a person who has been travelling on the London Underground is like welcoming in the Grip Reaper to your living room. I recommend a simple, frictionless salute, perhaps in the style of The Prisoner.

Agendas. A business meeting shouldn’t be like a Tinder hook-up. We need to establish what you want from me and what I want from you so an advance email is necessary. There is never a reason for a meeting to last over an hour. Set an alarm: the person still talking as the klaxon sounds needs to stop mid-sentence or pay a penalty, preferably something draconian.

Cancellations. It’s rude to cancel. Sometimes it’s unavoidable but the culture of arrange-and-cancel has become a plague. A large pot, say £1,000, should be set aside as a deterrent: the cancelled party takes all. And no, a conference call is not a satisfactory compromise, for reasons outlined here earlier.

PowerPoint. Just no. If you can’t say it without illuminating our faces via LCD screen, then we’re done. Presentations are fine for sending on later or before but while we’re meeting face to face, let’s talk like human beings.

And with that I humbly submit my guiding principles for peer review. Business meetings don’t need to be awful: do join me in my quest for a better way.

Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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