Image: svetikd/GettyImages

After months of pajama-clad collaboration, a number of companies are canceling the great remote work experiment and dragging begrudged employees back to the office. I, for one, do not plan to adhere to the business as usual button-up dress code in the new office—or anything close to it. It’s as much protest as is it is practicality. I’ll explain.

In the last year, the traditional office has undergone a substantial overhaul to mitigate the spread of contagion in-house. This includes deploying artificial intelligence-enabled panoptic sensors and thermal imaging to monitor social distancing, mask compliance and identify elevated body temperatures. The ashes of the open office plans have given rise to a labyrinth of plexiglass dividers and roving UV-C dispensing virus-blasting bots. This list goes on.

For those who have yet to reenter the new office, I think it’s important to momentarily steep in the aforementioned dystopian visual. Pleasant, right?

The very aesthetic has a Bladerunner-esque appeal.

The future of office work is so bright I can almost see the blue light glinting off my face shield.

The surreal idea of hitting deadlines and air high-fiving key performance indicators while shelving existential dread is beyond corporate romanticism. On top of all that, add stuffy business attire, masks and face shields and you’re toeing the line on cynical if not borderline cruel.

SEE: IT expense reimbursement policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Here’s a wild thought: Would it be so ground-shattering if a degree of this WFH comfort culture bled into on-site work? Would business professionals showing up for work in casualwear be such a bad move for morale as a real-life version of “Outbreak” brews, or more accurately mutates, outside?

I’m not suggesting companies dole out branded Snuggies as workforce swag, but some dress code flexibility could go a long way in the interim. Moreover, what is so captivating about khakis, power suits and button-ups anyway?

Mark Zuckerberg engineered a social media mecca while seemingly wearing the same gray T-shirt forever, and Steve Jobs built a tech empire in a pair of faded Levi’s and a frumpy turtleneck. For some, at least, it’s safe to say that comfort would appear to work wonders for innovation. Beyond these limited examples, did remote worker productivity not surge in recent months?

At any rate, after employees have experienced the savory liberation that is “working in what I slept in,” it’s hard to imagine wholly stuffing the sweat suit-clad genie back into the bottle.

With or without COVID-19, this cultural shift from the traditional business suit era has been taking place for years. And, like so many other new things, the pandemic may have only accelerated its inevitability. After all, there’s a reason Savile Row is on the ropes and leisurewear retailers are booming.

SEE: Juggling remote work with kids’ education is a mammoth task. Here’s how employers can help (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Image: westend61/GettyImages

Oscar Wilde once described fashion as, “a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” Using that rather pointed assessment, we’ve essentially missed two installments of such insufferable alterations.

As much as we might not like to admit it, many of us have packed on a few pandemic pounds amid a lost year of quarantine and hibernation. Personally, none of my clothes fit, and I could certainly use a little time to readjust socially and professionally after a year of video and Zoom’s brush up my appearance feature.

The “new normal,” as our current perpetually shifting reality is commonly referred to, implies the end of a previous standard. It’s going to take a bit for office workers to reassimilate into the corporate wild after a year of improvisation and making do. In the interim, perhaps companies could try on something new when it comes to in-house dress code expectations.

If a year of remote work has taught us anything, it’s the power of adaptability and rethinking almost everything we thought we knew about work, life and the paper-thin line separating the two.