Remote working and the great dress code conundrum


Like it or not, a great many South African professional and white collar workers are going to be working from home for a long time yet.

The ‘or not’ comes from a survey a little while back by local workplace consultancy, Giant Leap, which turned up the perhaps surprising result that 86% of South Africans would actually like to go back to the office.

Giant Leap director Linda Trim said that while remote work was very popular at first, as time wore on people realised that it came with loneliness and a lack of work-life balance.

Same code still applicable?

Nevertheless, remote work here and abroad is going to be with us for a long time yet – perhaps forever as the pandemic makes deep and lasting changes to management mindsets and business practices.

This reality is making HR practitioners and workplace experts think about things such as company dress codes. Should the code that was applicable at the physical office still be rigorously applied to remote workers? If not, by how much can it vary?

In smaller businesses, in particular, dress codes were often not so much laid down by detailed rules, but rather by the prevailing corporate culture.

A culture is now less clear

If the MD appeared daily in a collar and tie, then the underlings probably wouldn’t pitch in board shorts; and vice versa.

But now that few people actually go into to the office, the culture is far harder to discern, particularly for newer employees who perhaps have never experienced everyone being at work at the same time.

In South Africa, little research on company dress codes in the age of the virus seems to have been done. But, globally, there is a body of knowledge and significant debate.

Be fair to all employees

According to the US-based Society for Human Resource Management, for example, more and more employers are thinking about how to accommodate telecommuting employees dressing down, while at the same time ensuring they deal even-handedly and equally fairly with those who workers who must still come into the office frequently.

The requirements must also be applied equally to both sexes. Having a policy for female remote workers who are regularly in video meetings cannot stipulate detailed hair, make-up and clothing requirements if the instruction to male colleagues is merely ‘shave sometimes and don’t wear a t-shirt’.

Remember too, that even if the remote work dress code allows dressing down, it can preclude, for example, wearing a baseball cap with a logo or slogan that may be offensive to colleagues or clients.

Can stricter be better?

But there is a strong argument for keeping a relatively strict and formal dress code, even in the age of remote working.

According to a survey done by Shopper Follow, an international shopper marketing company, those remote workers who dressed in a more upmarket style all reported higher levels of productivity than those who dressed in gym clothes and pyjamas.

Roughly 80% of the more formal dressers said they felt productive throughout the day, compared to just 70% of those in gym clothes and 50% of those in pyjamas.

Make more video calls

One interesting set of stats to come out of the study was just how the reality of an upcoming video call makes remote workers up their game.

The researchers found that 22% changed out of their pyjamas for a video call, while 32% combed or brushed their hair. If a female respondent had a video call that day, 22% put on a bra, while 41% put on makeup.

Perhaps the lesson here for employers is: If you want to ensure a dress code, schedule lots of video calls to keep your employees on their toes.





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