It’s Been 5 Months Since Pants Died—But Is the Work From Home Dress Code Compromising Productivity?

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For many in the population of workers who now find themselves logging on remotely full-time as a result of COVID-19, the concept of "appropriate work attire" has undergone a serious a makeover. “Business casual,” now translates to “casually dressed, but only from the waist up,” because in a video-conference-only world where staying at home is absolutely encouraged, who needs pants for…anything? And while that old maxim of “dress for the job you want, not for the job you have” suggests that in order to be successful, you need to be buttoned up, put together, and fancy, my very existence as a working professional during the pandemic turns that idea on its head. (I'm writing this while going braless for my ninth day in a row.) But while the work from home dress code differs from how many of us used to get ready for our jobs, does it affect our productivity?

Experts In This Article

It seems there actually may be some benefit to glean from not looking like a total slob while working, even if no one is around to see your outfit. According to a recent poll of 1,000 people conducted by QS Supplies, a company that sells bathroom furniture and fittings, 37 percent of people say their work has been negatively impacted because they're putting less effort into their attire as a result of COVID-19.

"Choose your grooming level based on the energy you need most for each day.” —Erin Hatzikostas, career coach

So even though dolling up for your 9 a.m. Zoom call may feel like the real-life manifestation of the "mind blown" emoji, there could be some truth in the idea of dressing for success—emphasis on "some truth." That's because bit of effort in your outfit may prove effectual, but the pursuit of comfort remains valuable as well. “I think COVID-19 has been a massive headwind for enabling authenticity, including in how comfortable people feel about appearing not all buttoned up in front of their work colleagues,” says Erin Hatzikostas, founder of the career-coaching company b Authentic Inc. “I’ve actually found that dressing more formally is now the ‘sore thumb’ that sticks out in work meetings.”

Very, very true. In the early days of the pandemic, I got called out (jokingly) for daring to appear fully dressed and made up on camera. Over time—and with a much-too-late discovery of Zoom’s Touch Up My Appearance feature)—I felt increasingly uncomfortable popping onto video calls looking completely polished when no one else was doing the same. And though I still prefer to wear dresses rather than sweatpants, most days I forgo makeup and a bra. That said, when I don't regularly shower and do some bare-minimum grooming, I find I work less effectively—perhaps due to me feeling not ready to work.

Ultimately, though, dressing for success in the home office is about defining your own dress code and doing what makes you feel best. And here’s the most joyful part: According to Hatzikostas, that work from home dress code can change day to day to suit your needs. “I suggest you choose your grooming level based on the energy you need most for each day,” she says. “For example, there are days that I forgo showering—and opt for a hat—so I can sneak in that run that I otherwise wouldn’t have time to fit in. Alternatively, I’ve had days where I’ve thrown on a sundress because it helped me feel normal.”

But there is one boundary you might want to set: Give yourself a fresh start each day by changing out of your pajamas, even it's into another set of pajamas—daytime pajamas, if you will. “Small changes can make a big difference,” says Hatzikostas. “Changing your clothing is one great way to do that.”

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