As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to spread, more and more companies are giving their employees the option to work from home so people can avoid becoming sick, and work can continue to get done.

Such a change can be challenging for those who suddenly have to adjust the way they work. They will no longer hear conversation coming from the other cube, or be able to easily pop into a colleague’s office to ask a question. Though their new work surroundings may be the familiar comfort of home, the nature of their work is sure to change.

I have been working from home now for seven years, and in a recent blog post I shared some advice on how to make working from home work for you, and in another blog post I shared some tips on how to effectively participate in online meetings. There are lots of ways to succeed when working from home. Create a routine for yourself. Be purposeful about connecting with colleagues. Eat healthy and exercise.

I would like to add one more item to my list of recommendations about working from home. My other piece of advice would be to dress appropriately. OK, but dress appropriately for what?

I often find myself flummoxed as to how to dress for different occasions. Is a t-shirt OK, or should I wear something button down? Should I wear a sports coat, or a suit? Lots of people are wearing the new, fancy sneakers. Are those OK to wear to an evening event? I am proud to report I have worn a neck tie only a couple of times in the last few years, even when wearing a suit.

My first interview for the job I currently have was a video interview, and the person who eventually became my boss was visibly delighted that I was wearing a dress shirt and tie while talking on my computer from home. I am not sure if other candidates had been interviewed who dressed more casually, but the interviewer seemed to happy about the fact that I took the time, trouble and consideration to dress the way I did. I am not sure if the shirt and tie helped me get the job, but I do absolutely know it didn’t hurt.

Appropriate dress has always been important to me, and I had to be very purposeful about doing so once I began to work from home. I always wore dress shirts, because I knew I would be on video meetings throughout the day. I wanted my new colleagues and friends to know I took the job seriously, that I was professional, and that I was serious. When I went to the office headquarters in person, I would always wear a dress shirt, slacks and a tie.

As a part of my new job, I also went to technology and professional conferences, and the dress code that I had become accustomed to had changed. Attendees wort t-shirts with blue jeans or shorts. To the extent that more formal attire was worn, it was a casual button down shirt. Maybe a sport jacket, but that was absolutely the exception to the rule.

I realized that expectations had begun to change. More people were working from home, and more companies were adopting an attitude of “we don’t care what you wear, just do your job.”

In time, I began to wear simple, solid colored t-shirts when working from home. Not only was I much more comfortable, but I realized that nobody else really cared. People were wearing similar clothes, and I might even suggest that had I dressed much more formally, it would have been an issue that dressing in a plain t-shirt was not.

Perhaps expectations are different in other industries. I am not a lawyer, but a law firm expect more formal dress, even from those working from home. Even for a law firm, or a financial services firm, or a business consultancy, we need to realize we are in a new time with new expectations. When people get on a video call, others know right away if they are at home or in the office. With a dog walking across the room and family pictures on the wall, might the sight of your colleague wearing a suit, at home, feel awkward and insincere? I would think so.

Then there is the opposite viewpoint. Maybe we should always dress well. Maybe we don’t always know who we will be meeting with or why. Maybe Ed Asner has a point.

So, for what it is worth, my suggestions for how to dress when working at home:

  1. Dress comfortably. That means different things for different people. What does it mean for you?
  2. If you wear a t-shirt, like I do on many days, don’t wear a t-shirt with any words or messaging on it. From time to time, I may wear a “messaged” t-shirt on a Friday, but that t-shirt always relates to my work in some way.
  3. Avoid complex patterns. At worst, they can be dizzying on a computer screen during a video meeting, and at best they are just distracting.
  4. Wear shoes. I can’t explain why, but I feel more “present” and ready to work when I am wearing shoes.
  5. As for pants, I’ll leave that up to you.

Get dressed. Get to work. There is much to be done.

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