Navigating the hybrid
workplace dress code
It’s time to go back into the office, well at least partly. Welcome to the new work life: the hybrid office. Many of us are returning to the office, some of us full time and others a few days a week, leading to some rather confused wardrobes.
As with anything hybrid, two seemingly opposite concepts are fusing together as we start to merge Working From Home (WFH) and Work From Office . So how do employees and employers navigate post-pandemic office attire?
The case for business attire
The way you present yourself is a form of non-verbal communication. You are ‘speaking’ to an audience both externally and internally.
By internally, I mean the subconscious messages we give ourselves.. The morning ritual of getting ready for the day, selecting what to wear and curating our appearance, feeds into our sense of self esteem and competence.
It reflects who we believe we are, but also signals our aspirations. Or as I like to say to clients – dress today for your tomorrow.
Dressing in professional attire can influence your quality of work too. A paper in August 2015 in Social Psychological and Personality Science asked subjects to change into formal or casual clothing before cognitive tests. Wearing formal business attire increased abstract thinking, which researchers attributed to the feeling of power.
So what does this mean for the hybrid office?
Many of us have become accustomed to more casual attire sitting in the comfort of our own homes. With employers eager to have staff back in the office at least in a part-time capacity (when lockdowns aren’t being a buzzkill of course), how can your hybrid attire reflect professionalism?
It’s about aligning your attitude to your attire. If you want to be viewed as competent, strategic or creative your professional wardrobe needs to reflect this.
Much like our hybrid working arrangements, your wardrobe is likely to combine both styles. And that’s okay. What’s important to remember is that being comfortable in what you wear will give you confidence, but comfort doesn’t necessarily have to lead to unprofessional attire.
By being professionally casual, career progression can still be obtained.
The power casual wardrobe
Power dressing was once a sign of confidence, authority and professionalism. Yet in a mid-pandemic era, it’s easy to assume that power dressing isn’t relevant. Or the meaning of power dressing is being redefined.
In a traditional sense, this style will be taking a backseat for a while. So when we’re living in a hybrid office environment mixing working from home and at the office – how do we blend our two wardrobes professionally?
According to research by Dynata, a leading data and insights platform, Australian workers are some of the most reluctant in the world to dust off their corporate clothing. Of the Australians who wore business attire pre- pandemic, nearly a third (29 %) said they were not at all excited about the prospect of wearing formal clothing again. That figure is far higher than the global average (16%) and of the nations surveyed, only workers in the UK are less reluctant to dig out their workwear.
Although many of us have enjoyed the luxury of comfortable clothing while WFH, there is still a place for smarter workwear that enables employees to feel confident without sacrificing comfort.
It comes in the form of Power Casual style. Although office wear trends were generally heading in that direction prior to the pandemic, relaxed dressing is becoming more appropriate in an office environment. That’s where Power Casual comes in, essentially pieces that provide practicality and functionality, without compromising on style.
My tips for following this trend while still shaping your professional image are:
- Choose comfortable footwear like loafers, slingbacks or even sneakers and pair these with tailored pants.
- Dress in clothes that give you room to move. Consider pairing a sports jacket with a nice pair of trousers in stretchier fabrics. For women, consider flowing skirts or dresses which might feel more comfortable than a form-fitting pair of pants.
- Incorporate a broader range of colours into your wardrobe. Tones such as soft-washed navy alongside sand paired with brighter hues such as khaki or light blues balances symbols of strength, power, confidence and happiness.
- Accessorise! Just because you’re not wearing a tie as often doesn’t mean accessories can’t lift your game. Accessories are an easy way to add some fun and class to your outfit. Think jewels,pendants or belts, pocket squares or even your watch.
- Remember going back to the office is an opportunity to fall back in love with what you have in your wardrobe. Perhaps you lean towards a more casual look now, but you can absolutely mix and match your pre-pandemic style with your current pieces to really nail that Power Casual look.
- Don’t like the idea of falling back in love with your workwear wardrobe? Now is also the perfect time to reflect and re-look at your personal image. If you don’t like the result your feeling internally or the impression you’re giving externally – now is the time to strategically think about it.
The hybrid workplace culture
For employers, navigating the hybrid office will present some challenges but also opportunities to cultivate a healthy workplace culture. To adopt a positive hybrid workplace environment, employers will need to start with an empathetic approach.
The fact is, although we’re moving into the next ‘new normal’ – there can be a misconception that this ensures a seamless transition. In reality, employers need to understand that when it comes to staff attire, employees will likely want to be comfortable but also put together to reflect their hybrid lifestyle. Staff may have some anxiety returning to the office and getting dressed again. Because a new normal can still be a little murky, especially when it comes to dress codes.
Dressing down at work has been happening for years, even before the pandemic. A November 2020 Casualisation of Fashion report by market research firm Mintel showed that just over a quarter of full or part-time US workers hoped their employer would let them dress more casually in the future.
For employers, people pushing back on what’s appropriate presents an opportunity to revisit your dress code and either reinforce it or find a way to adapt to the hybrid landscape and support staff morale.
There is a risk, however, of hybrid workplace attire being embraced a little too enthusiastically and your employees failing to represent your brand appropriately. Studies have shown that how we dress affects how people perceive us. In a 2012 study by the University of Kansas, participants accurately judged the age, gender, income and other attributes of people based on photographs they provided of the shoes they wore most often.
There are benefits to a dress code. It can remove or limit the element of choice and even be a psychological advantage by providing a shortcut – think Steve Jobs. Still, emerging entrepreneurs are amongst the most passionate about expressing themselves through their outfits. IWG, which operates Spaces and Regus, found that Millennials and Gen Z workers are particularly conscious of expressing themselves at work via their wardrobes. With more than half (51%) of 18-24-year-olds stating that their outfits reflect their personality, the highest of any age demographic, while 51% of 25-34-year-olds said that their office attire is linked to their creativity, higher than any other age group.
My tips for employers wanting to balance the needs of staff with business expectations, is to take an empathetic approach – as previously mentioned. Ask and listen first rather than issuing a directive of what you assume is necessary.
Reiterate the importance of dress codes to your teams so they understand these guidelines aren’t created to make them confirm. Rather it’s to help set staff up for success so they come across as professional, capable, believable and knowledgeable.
Your employees never get a second chance at a first impression, and they are representing your brand. Lead by example and your staff will understand what’s expected of them to communicate your organisation’s values within and outside your business.