Pants, skirts, shorts: Should they go, or should they stay?

No, this column is not about apparel. The teaser headline refers to the ongoing controversy about whether employees should be required to come to the office or be given the flexibility to work remotely.

As with everything else in business, there is no 100 percent, ironclad answer.

Hello Zoom. This word, used generically, has become a shorthand verb or adjective for working outside the confines of a brick-and-mortar edifice through various highly effective online platforms for real-time communications. Uses included sophisticated presentations, large group sessions, and one-on-one discussions.

It’s hard to come up with any good that came from COVID, the worst pandemic in more than 100 years, other than the almost instant implementation of Zoom communications that enabled companies to stay in business, helping prevent a worldwide economic catastrophe and forever changing where and how people worked and collaborated.

Historically, for the last 125 years, office buildings shot up faster than wheat grows in Kansas. Soon, working from 9 to 5 became a way of life, and workers dressed the part wearing pants, suits, skirts and shoes.

Now, the big post-COVID question is whether employees should be required to return to the office, continue remotely, or have the choice to adopt some combination of both.

At the height of the pandemic and lockdown, the facetious question often asked or wondered about during a Zoom call was, “What are colleagues wearing (or not) out of the camera’s view?” Full disclosure, when I did internet meetings throughout COVID, I wore customary business attire, or business casual, above the belt line. I, however, will not comment further on my garb out of the picture on my Zoom calls.

Putting the controversy of attire aside, the job function is the first step in answering the question of in-person work vs. remote. For example, recruiters can do much of their work in a phone booth. If one’s role is to provide or learn leadership, encourage mentoring and spearhead collaboration, I would opt for the physical togetherness of the office for at least a significant portion of the normal workweek.

One of the greatest advantages of working in the office with others is collaboration “by walking about,” much like how osmosis works. Just ask yourself how many promising ideas have sprung up because you ran into a colleague in the hall and started talking about what-ifs. Conversation ignites innovation by involving others, perhaps within feet of one another. This spontaneity cannot happen on Zoom.

The office environment is where real-life fundamental learning occurs for new hires and people just starting their careers. Aside from being introduced to specific functions, essential life lessons come from everyone being under one tent. Learning results from “being there” in the middle of the action and watching how things get done, including understanding how to navigate office politics, communicate and compromise, and engage others.

The one constant with either Zoom or in-person work is that appearances count, which will always include playing and dressing the part by wearing the appropriate attire, depending on whether a camera is in the picture. ●

Visit Michael Feuer’s website to learn more about his columns, watch videos and purchase his books, “The Benevolent Dictator” and “Tips From The Top.”

Michael Feuer

Founder and CEO