As leaders struggle to figure out what a “hybrid” workplace looks like moving forward, they find themselves having to make all sorts of new ground rules or re-write existing ones. Do we require that cameras on for virtual meetings? Are core working hours different if you have little kids at home? We didn’t have to think about these things before, and I see a lot of leaders jumping pretty quickly to policy decisions without thinking it through.
One area that is evolving quickly is dress code. Dress codes vary widely depending on the industry and the individual organization, but for the broad swath of companies that employ “office workers,” the last several decades have seen an evolution that moved away from formal dress and toward business casual (and jeans on Friday).
Then we all had to work from home, and suddenly pajamas became an option.
On video calls we only have to look presentable from the waist up, and while I didn’t see any pajama tops on business calls, I have noticed high level executives wearing more casual clothes when conducting their meetings from home. And I predict as people head back to the office you will see that move toward more casual dress continue.
This is based on a trend we identified in our 2021 ebook on returning to the workplace: customization and employee focus. We let employees design their work around their own needs when they were home, and many will not want to go back to suppressing those needs when they come back to the office, and that will include the clothes they wear.
In fact, one of the case study organizations in When Millennials Take Over was profiled specifically for designing their organization around the needs of employees, and their dress code was only 2 words:
You don’t have to go that far if you don’t want to, but you’d better start thinking about the rationale you will provide for why you won’t let someone wear jeans in the office on a Tuesday. It’s the WHY piece that we are still struggling to articulate, whether it’s dress code, video on, or dealing with children. What is the logic behind our policy decisions? What is the real business impact of going in one direction or another on those questions?
That’s something we emphasize continuously in our culture design work. When you are intentionally moving your culture in a particular direction—whether it’s trying to improve innovation, have departments collaborate better, or build a culture of transparency—you have to explain the WHY. You must demonstrate how these moves will make us all more successful. The same is true for whatever answer you’ve come up with around dress code.