When I was 22, I went to work in a suit and tie every day. That was the dress code, and it was the norm for me. Just the thought of my CEO seeing me in shorts and flip-flops at work would probably have made me wet my pants.
Now, fast-forward 10 years. I'm the CEO of my own company, and if any one of my employees walked into the office wearing a suit and tie, he or she would look completely out of place next to a team of people in jeans or athletic wear.
And companies like mine aren't the only ones introducing laid-back dress policies -- J.P. Morgan even adopted a more casual dress code just this summer. (Sure, no one's rolling into J.P. Morgan in tank tops or anything, but I doubt those guys who've finally gotten out of wearing suits all day, every day aren't complaining.)
Over the past few years, our ideas about professionalism and formality in the workplace have changed -- and it's not just in our dress that you can see it. It's in all the ways we present ourselves to and communicate with other people in general. Texts are a totally normal and acceptable (even preferred) form of communicating with someone you just met. And emails with emojis and GIFs are popular, too.
The reason for this change is pretty simple: People want to be real. No one wants to present themselves as someone they're not. We all want to be ourselves and be comfortable with who we are.
People wanting to be themselves isn't new, exactly. I can't imagine a time when most people really enjoyed being uncomfortable -- physically in their clothes and personally with their communication -- at work. But with Millennials now making up the majority of the workforce and with all the technology we have now, we're finally able to act on that desire; we're finally able to make the shift and become more personable in our professional lives.
And it's because of that personability that we're actually seeing stronger, more authentic business relationships, too. We are naturally attracted to others who treat us like people, cut through the b.s., and want to form real relationships. We're able to do this better now than ever before.
For example, I just got back from a trip to New York where I met (for the first time) with a few high-profile, valuable business contacts. As informal and laid back as I can sometimes be, I still maintain a pretty traditional persona with new relationships. But this time, I let that persona go. I walked into these meetings as comfortable and relaxed as if I was catching up with my old college buddies.
The results were remarkable -- even better than when I spend hours prepping and present myself as this formal, professional guy who I'm really not. Every meeting went better than I could have hoped, and we all left each one feeling like we'd made new friends, not just contacts who we'd exchange resources with.
In hindsight, I'm not surprised this tactic worked out as well as it did. I finally let go of that persona I present when I meet a serious business contact for the first time. I didn't put on a show or act like someone I wasn't. In fact, I didn't even prepare an agenda or major talking points. I walked in with one goal: Get to know these people, find out what's valuable to them, and do what I can to help.
It was that simple. The fanciest suits and most carefully rehearsed presentations in the world would not have gone as far at forming those human connections and delivering value as being myself did. Ultimately, that's what matters.
The world is changing. People expect to be comfortable, enjoy their work, and, most importantly, trust the people they're working with. The next time you meet someone, ask yourself what you're going to do to break down barriers and form an honest, transparent relationship with him or her.
I challenge you to think about what you can do to create stronger relationships and add more of your own personality into your professional life. You'll probably feel relieved that you can be yourself, and that will lead to more authentic, valuable business relationships.
Life is short. The more you enjoy your time at work (and the more others enjoy being around you) -- not some dry, buttoned-up version of yourself -- the better your chances are of building a life with a career and relationships you truly value.