The office dress code continues to get more casual, despite the fact that this trend has been steadily evolving for decades. I have a quaint memory of my first experience with business casual in the 1990s when we were granted permission – but only on Fridays.
Once that door was cracked open, it took just a few months to achieve casual every day. During the evolution there were years when workers and clothing designers struggled to determine what shirts or shoes were fancy enough for business casual, but that is also a quaint memory. “No-iron” shirts gave way to “I don’t even own an iron.” For the vaguely defined “millennial” – the largest generational group in the workforce – casual dress is seen as a perk that employers must offer to attract talent. In the past year, staid JP Morgan Chase, one of the last holdouts, introduced business casual for its bankers. These days the arrival of guys in dark suits is unsettling – they must be FBI or Secret Service.
So it comes as no surprise that elements of the cozy, casual home office are steadily appearing in the real office. At last month’s NeoCon trade show in Chicago, I saw more and more examples of softer, stuffed, lounge-like office furniture with pitched backs. Workers are invited to retreat from the restrictive open plan to what one supplier calls “active relaxation.” Comfortable becomes associated with creative. Stools are designed to fit together in many configurations – including a kind of bed where you can stretch out on your back.
“Personalizing your workspace” no longer means setting a framed family photo on your desk – we are now in the “we to me” workplace. Want to rearrange the walls? Partitions with a prominent hardwood wheel make it easier than rearranging your living room furniture. Want to exercise at work, much like you might use a treadmill while watching TV at home? Then a treadmill desk may be for you. Want to relax outside in the sunshine? Casual outdoor furniture dresses down the corporate courtyard to a residential backyard.
If comfortable office design evolves over time like business casual dress has, comfort will become a perk that many workers expect and that employers will willingly provide.