When things return to normal, should the office dress code also return? Now that would be an interesting conversation…
For many of us—including the editorial team of DA MAN—work has increasingly come to mean sitting in front of our laptops in the living room and dressing up only when there’s a conference call (Zoom meetings, anyone?) scheduled for the day. And, going by various anecdotes making the rounds online like this one, perhaps the whole idea of “dressing up for work” doesn’t sit high on most people’s priority lists.
Now, #WorkFromHome has actually answered—even if only partially—some rather fundamental questions about work: Can some jobs be done from home? Can teams and even entire companies coordinate online? Can a country’s Internet infrastructure handle a big chunk of the country being online all day, every day?
More importantly, there has been a lot of discussion about how things can be done—or should be done—when we return to a semblance of normalcy. And that brings us to our question of the day: Should the office dress code return?
For some jobs, the answer is naturally: “yes.” Public-facing professionals are almost universally expected to carry themselves in a way that properly reflects the institution they work for. If it’s a bank, five-star hotel or multinational corporation, then something formal is definitely called for. A world-class fashion boutique? Something stylish but still formal and business-like.
That being said, how about back office staff? How about professionals in more creative industries for whom face-to-face meetings with clients and the public is inherently minimal?
The rise of tech startups in Silicon Valley really popularized the concept of casual work attire in a professional setting. Not “business casual,” mind you, but sweatshirts, hoodies and even cargo shorts worn by professionals who are working on professional matters in a professional office. This aesthetic then spread to basically every high-profile startup together with free lunches, game rooms and beanbag chairs.
What does this mean to businesses at large, however? Obviously, when—fingers crossed and all that—things return to normal (or as normal as it gets), dress codes won’t simply go away. But perhaps it could become a turning point for some major and meaningful changes.
People would still need to use good judgement and basic common sense. Tank tops and shorts are comfy to work in, but might not be the best option in creating a professional work atmosphere. A button-down shirt and a tie might feel uncomfortable after hours on end at a workstation, but comes in handy when, say, clients might go through the office space at any time.
That being said, a light sweater or jacket over a T-shirt paired with casual slacks and sneakers doesn’t necessarily look unprofessional. A polo shirt and jeans setup can also be kept neat enough for an office-worker to look competent and no-nonsense.
Establishing a dress code that simply says “you can dress casual, but not too casually; just look professional” will ensure eternal headaches for the HR department, especially in big companies. At the same time, it is high time that corporate dress codes become more relaxed. Many people have now proven themselves more than capable of managing their own work from home; it’s not too much of a stretch to put more trust in the way people chose to present themselves in professional settings.
Is this a gamble worth taking for business owners and corporations? Well, a couple of months ago we all thought that working from home was a possible but not yet practical alternative to modern office life; now it has been proven to work. So, maybe getting rid of—or seriously downplaying—strict office dress codes might work for the post-COVID-19 world.
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