By Tina Stevens, VRSA Director of Human Resources
I began my career in the early 1980’s at a life insurance company where there was a very strict dress code. All the men wore suits or sports coats AND ties. If a man went into the cafeteria for more than a cup of take-out coffee, he had to put on his jacket. Women were required to wear hosiery with skirts or dresses, pants were frowned upon, and open toe shoes were a no-no.
Flash forward 40 years – I’m at my computer in my home-based office wearing pajama pants, a sweatshirt and socks. If I have a ZOOM meeting I’ll put on a nicer top – maybe, depends on who is on the call.
At the beginning of 2020, when most of us worked out of an office, even with a casual dress code, a sweatshirt would not have been appropriate. So, is it appropriate now that I work out of my home? Before COVID-19. a work-from-home dress-code policy would have seemed strange, but now that so many are working at home and participating in video meetings, it might not be so far-fetched.
Pre-COVID, why did we have dress codes in the first place? Was it to project a professional image, as a safety concern, or did customer opinions come into consideration? Now that many staff are working at home full time or part-time, do we still need to dress the same way?
There are many questions to consider when determining if a dress code is necessary and what purpose it serves.
Surveys have shown that employees enjoy a more relaxed means of dress in the workplace from “jeans on Friday” to a full-time casual mode within certain guidelines. Many say they feel more productive when casually dressed, mainly due to comfort level, from a more rigid form of dress.
Yet, do those pajama pants and athleisure attire at home really make an employee feel more productive?
If they just roll out of bed, turn on the computer, get the coffee and start working, are they really more productive than starting the day with a more professional appearance?
Working at home does allow more freedom; however, production and service levels must remain the same. Managers need to manage and evaluate performance of their remote employees regardless of how they are dressed.
Maybe what we need are specific guidelines when employees interact with teammates, supervisors and customers they serve. Everything from appropriate attire, background visuals and environmental sounds should be considered.
Requiring employees to present a professional appearance when customer facing is probably a no-brainer, but maybe not so much if they are interacting with colleagues.
Consider who are the “customers” of each of your employees’ services, and then build your expectations around those scenarios.