No Suit, No Commute(rs) (Excerpt from "The 2030 Papers")

Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day—a black turtleneck, blue jeans, and New Balance sneakers—and, in his younger years, conducted meetings barefoot. Mark Zuckerberg opts for a grey shirt, blue hoodie, jeans, and Nikes—and much of Silicon Valley has followed suit (or, more aptly, hasn’t).

At some point in the 1990s, denim shifted from a mainstay of the grunge rock era (picture a Canadian-tuxedoed Kurt Cobain) to a status symbol of the technorati. Wearing jeans to work suggested you were smart, hip, and in control of your own destiny, so to speak—or, at the very least, worked for someone who “got it.” Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and startups far and wide transformed “casual Fridays” into “casual everydays,” packaged it up as a key benefit in their employee value propositions, and snatched up talent faster than Usain Bolt running a hundred-meter dash.

Does anyone wear suits in the workforce of the future?

The question is worth considering. We can expect the trend to decline substantially with the cycling out of Baby Boomers, who—despite their “anti-establishment” mantra of the 1960s and 70s—have grown used to the delineation between dressing for work and dressing for everything else. Like it or not, pleated slacks and ill-fitting khakis have come to define Boomer-era employment as we know it.

While some professions may continue to prefer business-formal wear—sales people, lawyers, bankers, and finance, for the most part—others may buck the trend in lieu of creative expression, saving money, or flat-out comfort.

Freedom of wardrobe may prompt—or happen concurrently with—the desire for freedom in other areas. Consider the commute. For many workers, the commute is the most miserable part of the day. Traffic jams, accidents, and general wasted time put people in a bad mood—or, at the very least, a stressed one.

Employer policy can help in this regard. Employers who aim to make employee well-being a priority will increasingly offer telecommuting and work-from-home options to improve work-life balance, job satisfaction, and overall health of the employee. Self-driving cars may also help alleviate commuter misery. But with the proliferation of work-from-anywhere and increasingly geographically dispersed teams, at the end of the day, many people may wonder why they have to commute to the office in the first place.

We can expect “no suit, no commute” to become the mantra of a cross-section of generations—Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z and whomever comes next. Those who can choose will no longer take jobs that don’t fit their standards, continually forcing companies to adapt to snag the talent they want.

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