Should we be implementing Work From Home dress codes?

With COVID numbers rising steadily in North America, many workplaces are keeping their employees at home and some companies, such as Shopify, have told employees they will be working from home for the foreseeable future.

While scrolling through LinkedIn, as I do quite a bit these days looking for a more full time position, I came across an article talking about employers bringing in dress codes for their work from home employees. You can check the article out here. Before even clicking on the article, I had a visceral reaction to the idea of someone policing their employee’s outfits in their home. We have seen a number of reports of kids getting in trouble in virtual classrooms for things like eating at their desk, what they wear and what they are playing with in their homes.

Photo by Luke Peters on Unsplash

In the article, they mention a study done with 1000 remote workers regarding dress codes. “Approximately 80 percent of the more formal dressers said they felt productive throughout the day, compared to just 70 percent of those in gym clothes and 50 percent of those in pajamas.” As someone who has worked with research and statistics, the difference between 80% and 70% feeling productive doesn’t show me that there is a huge difference between formal dressers and gym clothes. Personally, I have been working from home as a professional since I completed my Master’s degree last September, and technically I worked from home during my 2 year master’s degree. I have never found a specific TYPE of clothing to enhance my productivity, as long as I change out of whatever I slept in the night before, brush my teeth and do something with my hair.

So if you’re reading this, I’m interested what you think about dress codes and WHY they exist. The article questions this as well, “Deciding whether to enforce a dress code with a remote workforce is actually a great opportunity to pause and think about why you have a dress code in normal times”. Society deems that professional clothing or “productive” clothing is business attire, dress pants and suit jackets, button up shirts and knee length or floor length dresses or skirts. As mentioned in the article, what is the reason behind this? Is it office morale? Professionalism? Positive customer experience? Safety?

The WHY behind the dress code is more important than ever because now we are bringing work policies into the comfort of people’s homes. Is wearing formal attire important for personal productivity? I personally never felt that wearing business attire in my receptionist/support staff role heightened my work at all. It may have made the business look more fancy as I was sometimes the first person you saw on the way in, however behind the 4 foot high desk, you couldn’t see more than the tops of my shoulders. I definitely didn’t type, answer phones, or print out legal documents any faster in my restrictive button up shirts than if I was wearing something else. And as someone who is constantly cold in the winter (I wore my fake fur coat to our outdoor family thanksgiving this weekend while my fiancee and parents wore tshirts and light sweaters), I often ended up wearing large cozy sweaters and fleece shawls in the winter to keep productive in the cold office temperatures.

So since we’re at home, unless we are meeting with coworkers or clients on a video conference call, are we enforcing dress codes during the behind the scenes work to help increase professionalism or the idea of productivity?

I think it is important, as we are normalizing working from home and trying to get into routine after being in this new normal for 7 months, to remember that some people are not in their new normal. I definitely agree that looking put together when meeting with someone online is important, but are we assuming that the difference in productivity between working in the office and working at home right now is the lack of dress code? We need to remember that for the people who have not CHOSEN to be working from home, there might be other circumstances besides what they put on their body that may be causing them to be unproductive. Many of the people in my life who have young kids are still navigating working from home while taking care of their children because their kids are either doing virtual home school, or have to be home for days at a time because of precautionary COVID measures sending them home for the slightest of sickness symptoms. Some people may be navigating other caregiving roles with family members or pets. Similar to myself and most of my friends, they may live in a space that is not accommodating of the number of people working from home; right now my roommate, fiancee and myself are all doing work and school from our small apartment. People might have slow internet or less ideal electronics causing issues with being able to complete work as efficiently. And one of the most not talked about struggles is that people’s mental health struggles are skyrocketing and people are still experiencing a lot of what I’ll call COVID anxiety.

If there is an issue with productivity in your company, I have a feeling that we need to look at all the other personal factors that employees might be experiencing before we look at enforcing a daily dress code.

Keeping company morale up with access to mental health supports, virtual social events, and open communication may be a simple step to getting thigs done. Reaching out and checking in with the employees who may be raising children, taking care of parents or grandparents, might help understand what people’s capacities are for new projects before assigning them. It is not ideal to have less productive times, but these are also STILL strange and frightening times we’re in.

We need to be understanding of what people are going through, and look outside of the traditional corporate/societal beliefs that “dressing for success” is going to solve all of our work problems. People might be less productive right now for a huge list of things revolving around working from home, but also around adjustments to this new time we are navigating day by day. People are unproductive because their are barriers or distractions they are trying to navigate. People are not unproductive or less productive because they’re not sitting at their kitchen table responding to emails in a full suit.

*** Note: this is my personal opinion, of course everyone is very different and I know some people who DO enjoy getting dressed up for their work day. I believe it is important however to consider more out of the box reasons for why people are struggling than generalizing to research studies.

If you are working from home these days, or have been working at home for years, what does your work wardrobe look like? And what strategies do YOU feel make you productive during your work day? Leave your experience and opinions in the comments below!

Published by maiiflowerr

Pronouns She/Her. I'm a millennial just trying to make a difference in the world, and create space for people to accept themselves and live their best lives. My fiancee, Sydney, and I are mothers to our two goofy cats, and the queens of creative adventures. I am an Occupational therapist, a dancer and a yoga instructor with a passion for supporting people and creating community.

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