The end of Mad Men is approaching and with it, the end of an era.
As the show wraps up its final episodes, I can't help but think about what Sterling Cooper & Partners, set during the 1960s, can teach us about today's workplace, and perhaps even the workplace of the future.
On the surface, it's hard to imagine what a show like Mad Men, rife with '60s style and charm, can teach us about the way we work today. Yet, under the seemingly egregious disregard for office etiquette exhibited in Sterling Cooper, we can glean lessons in practice and designing office spaces that facilitate collaboration. We can also visualize the impact technology can make to support a more mobile, interconnected and flexible workforce.
Taking a closer look, it's easy to see major workplace lessons are illustrated throughout the series. For example, in the first episode, Joan takes Peggy to her desk on her first day, shows her the IBM Selectric typewriter and says, "Now don't be overwhelmed by all this technology." The typewriter today seems archaic, but that conversation is still being had today. New collaboration tools are entering the market and, with them, a bit of apprehension and confusion in how to use them.
Spending one day at Don Draper's agency would overwhelm anyone. The show reflects a '60s-style office setting complete with cramped workspaces for copywriters and swanky private offices for executives. That was how workspaces were defined. Today is much different. No longer is the business world defined by one office structure, but by many.
As we examine the show more closely, here are four ways Mad Men can educate us on building a workplace of the future.
1. Yes, Don Draper and the open office can co-exist.
For a moment, picture yourself as a Don Draper-esque worker. You thrive on your creativity and seemingly nothing can stop you when you're in the creative zone. In the show, Don relies (perhaps too heavily) on the closed doors of his private office. He rarely speaks to his secretary and when he does it's generally only for a personal favor. He's annoyed when any of the copywriters show him projects that he's already predetermined to reject. If you recall, many of the best ideas Don receives come from his junior staff. Many of the ideas are filtered into new business and groundbreaking campaigns.
Setting aside Don's stubborn demeanor (which I realize is a tall order), it further illustrates the power of human collaboration. Even with Don in his office, more open communication could have led to increased productivity. A more open collaborative setting creates greater innovation, impromptu brainstorms, and greater team efficiency. Collaboration solutions are entering the market today that allow for open communication--no matter if you're in a swanky corner office, or huddled in a copywriter room. These tools integrate today into any office setting--open or not.
2. Don't be overwhelmed by new technology.
If you're like me, you had to chuckle as Peggy sits down at that typewriter. Joan's somewhat comforting "don't be overwhelmed by the technology" seems pretty silly today, doesn't it? Amazingly, we hear of these conversations even today. The typewriter in our example is video conferencing technology. Video is set to surpass email as the preferred communications technology by next year. However, perceptions exist that video is hard to use. In a survey Polycom conducted earlier this year, more than half of our respondents noted they don't use video because they either felt it was too complicated or they just didn't know much about it. Peggy's concern about the typewriter is fair. It was new, not something intuitive or something she was used to. We laugh a bit at Peggy's expense because we all know how to use a typewriter today. And that same rule will apply to video conferencing. It's easier than you think, and will integrate into your daily workflow as simply as the typewriter and email have. I do have to wonder though, if our grandkids will laugh at us when they look at our tablets and smartphones generations from now.
3. The conference call is more important than you know.
In Episode 2 of the seventh season ("A Day's Work"), Sterling Cooper & Partners acquired some new technology--the conference call (don't be overwhelmed, readers!). The scene depicts Bert and his team in New York speaking live with Ted and Pete in California. Back then, conference calls were a real pain. They were choppy, and static prevented the audio quality from being anything but poor at best. The calls were taken from a conference room.
The workspace has greatly changed since the 1960s. Work is no longer a place you go, it's something you do. Today's worker is mobile and flexible and can connect from any environment. Video conferencing allows us the freedom to connect from anywhere, and with any device. It's simple, easy to use, and so intuitive; you can even have video conference calls during which the camera focuses directly on each person speaking. You can work from coffee shops, airport terminals--even your home. The experience is infinitely improved. Businesses today are literally defying distances, becoming more global, and connecting as if they were in the same room. Physical office environments are not a necessity any longer. And neither are static-filled audio conference calls.
4. Never underestimate an intelligent woman.
It was a different time in the 1960s. The perception of working women was improperly defined as secretaries or very low-end junior staff. While we continue to battle stereotypes such as these, the show positioned Peggy as a critical member of the firm by series end. Peggy moved ahead from secretary to top copywriter in the office. Imagine if video collaboration had been used then? As a woman, it was difficult to demonstrate value without proper opportunity. Video is allowing us to break that chain. With video collaboration, we can more properly emphasize our point of view, gauge participant reaction, and more efficiently share ideas. Video is bringing all of us closer to decision makers, making more meaningful connections. These connections certainly could have helped women in the 1960s, but I believe they are making an impact today.
Mad Men was an extraordinarily creative series that showcased a brilliant script, believable characters, and a profoundly accurate depiction of office life in the 1960s. The workplace is so much different today than it was 50-plus years ago. Whiskey, cigarettes, and typewriters have been replaced by water, snacks, and video conferencing. We laugh at the suits, skinny ties, and office demeanor because to us they feel so out of touch with today's world. The next time you watch the show, think about all those differences that have led us to today's workplace. More collaborative environments and advanced collaboration technology (and perhaps more understanding executives) have all replaced the old stigma.
You have to wonder, if they were to make a Mad Men series about us 50 years from now, will the next two generations feel the same?