What Can a 120 Year-Old Hotel Teach Us About Work Life?

DSCN0529It seems there are opportunities to learn something new everyday — and often the source of those lessons can come as a bit of a surprise. (Albeit a happy one.) Last week, I learned a thing or two about business from The Grand Hotel, a 120+ year old establishment located on Mackinac Island. (I was lucky enough to stay there, running team-building exercises for a company off-site.)

The Grand is a magical place that time has happily forgotten — but with that status comes a unique opportunity to impart some unique lessons.

Here is what I learned:

  • Sometimes you need walls. In today’s modern offices, it is nearly impossible to make a phone call in a private setting — away from prying ears and annoying distractions. Cutting edge companies, such as Steelcase Designs are offering “Palette of Place” options going forward. But, The Grand already knows we need a quiet place to make a call. Check out these “phone booths” just off the conference area where I found myself working. Brilliant right?2013-08-29 10.00.472013-08-29 10.00.16
  • Visual inspiration is important. The vistas on the island were unbelievable and there were plenty of places carved out at The Grand from which to enjoy them. After a few minutes had passed, I could actually hear myself think, while sipping coffee from an actual cup and saucer. (Not a paper “to go” cup.) As a result, I was able to work out a client problem I had been contemplating. The lesson learned here? Relax and “sit on a porch” once in a while — take in the view and smell the roses. You might find that your level of concentration and ability to focus actually improves.
  • Slow the heck down. Ok, I’ll have to admit, I was thrown into a forced technological slow-down on the island (I arrived without my lap top). But, we could all benefit from a bit of a tech break. (Those e-mails were actually still there later.) The horse and carriage may not be my usual mode of transport (there are no motor vehicles on the island) and it required more time to reach destinations. However, the “clip clop” of the horse’s shoes on the pavement began to feel like a calming melody. I actually had time to daydream about what I wished to accomplish for the remainder of the year. Amazing.
  • Embrace history. After we leave school, we rarely keep up with our history lessons. The Grand hotel is full of such lessons — including the remarkable fact that the hotel itself was built in less than 90 days. (Talk about focus) The hotel’s lobby is loaded with reminders of Michigan’s past, including photographic essays of visits by former presidents and VIP’s of yesteryear. We stayed in a suite named “The Lodge of Teddy Roosevelt”. The room displayed family photos and items reflecting the interests of our 26th president. I couldn’t help but wonder if we reflect enough on the history of the leaders in the organizations for which we work — and if we learn from the events of the past. We need more of that.

A side note: The film “Somewhere in Time was filmed at The Grand. There is an event held there every October celebrating the movie and the grace of that period. Find other facts about The Grand Hotel here.

What else can the past teach us about how do to business today? Share your thoughts.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.


3 thoughts on “What Can a 120 Year-Old Hotel Teach Us About Work Life?

  1. That a man’s word was as indelible as a signature. Yes, we need contracts, but some of the dirty dealing in business today – in the name of ‘It’s only business’ – is lauded to justify any and all reprehensible behaviour.


  2. Great reminder that brings back great memories of The Grand. It says, ‘Who we were is still who we are. We created something that people valued then, and they still do. We value you because you value who we are. Take this with you when you leave and pass it on.” Great values for a company to propagate through its employees and products and services. It communicates more about sustainability than the immediate bottom line.


  3. There was a grace to the formality in which people interacted back in the day. A balance between some formal practices which still have merit and today’s informal practices would be welcome.


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