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Summary:

I have a confession to make. Though I am not one of the small percentage of teleworkers who work in the nude, my office attire consists of pajamas and shirts that are often frayed and have small holes in them. If my clients saw me side-by-side […]

I have a confession to make. Though I am not one of the small percentage of teleworkers who work in the nude, my office attire consists of pajamas and shirts that are often frayed and have small holes in them. If my clients saw me side-by-side with a 15-year-old fast food worker, they would probably pick the teenager to write their web site copy.

But if your clients don’t see you, how important is it to dress like a professional? Does it change the way we feel about our work? Can clients and colleagues tell the difference? To answer these questions, I wore “business clothes” during my working hours for five straight days.

The Effect of Wearing Business Attire in Your Home Office

First, some definitions. What constitutes “business clothes”? My first criteria was that it should be something I would wear to a face-to-face meeting with an actual client. To me this meant collared shirts, slacks and leather shoes. With some clients, I know I can probably get away with more casual attire, but I always lean on the more conservative side.

At the start of my five-day experiment, one of the first things I noticed was how I was becoming more careful with my movements while wearing business clothes. As someone who is known for being accident prone, I welcomed the change. I was also more careful about getting dirt on my clothes, which was strange because as a teleworker, I don’t have any nearby colleagues who’d spot a coffee stain on my sleeve.

Another advantage I noticed was how practical my new attire was when colleagues dropped by at short notice. I didn’t find myself running into the bedroom to change my clothes while yelling “Just a minute!” The graphic designer I work with was surprised to see me in such “formal” clothes at first, and asked jokingly if I was going to church. But after that she didn’t seem to notice it anymore.

Also, after the first three days, I realized that something strange was happening. Not only was I able to check off everything from my to-do lists, I even add new tasks and am able to complete them. In other words, the clothes seemed to be making me more productive. They gave me a physical manifestation of the separation between work and home life.

If there is a disadvantage it’s the added preparation time required before starting work. There’s an additional 10 to 15 minutes of getting dressed that is now part of my morning routine. Sometimes, my partner would even chime in and make suggestions on what I should wear, adding even more time. I don’t necessarily consider it a disadvantage though, it’s more of an investment, since I am clearly more productive afterward.

Is It For Everyone?

I’ve been looking for surveys and studies about the effects of clothing on productivity, but all I found were conflicting or inconclusive results. In a poll from CareerThink, 54 percent of respondents said that dressing up for work had no effect on productivity, while 41 percent said it made them more productive. I guess this means that if you suspect that dressing up will have a positive effect on your work, try it out for yourself — but don’t expect any miracles.

Whenever someone asks me about the perks of teleworking, the lack of a proper dress code is often one of the first things I mention. It’s strange that I’m sacrificing this perk a little so I can work better. But this doesn’t mean that I’ll be uncomfortable. After the last two days of my experiment and working through the weekend, I found that I was equally productive wearing my fuzzy bedroom slippers with my business clothes.

What’s your usual attire when working at home? Do you think it affects your productivity?

Image by ltz from sxc.hu

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By Celine Roque

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  1. I loved this article! I had wondered this myself and awhile back did the same experiment. I learned that dressing in business casual gave me the professionalism and an added boost of confidence thus making me more successful at my sales position. On the flip side, when I wore a stuffy suit that I was not comfortable in, I noticed my mind became more occupied with things other than the task at hand. I think there is definitely something to be said for comfort, but added with just the right mixture of professionalism seems to make the day more productive!
    I also tried this through shopping. I wanted to see society’s point of view on a person. I can look quite different when I am “dressed to kill” vs. “road kill”. When I played the part, the sales associates at stores were nicer, friendlier and more attentive. When I went to the same stores dressed as “road kill”, I was ignored and even received unfortunate rude attitudes from sales associates. I guess it goes to show that not only we feel a difference on our appearance, but others do too.

  2. Trina Roach – Executive Coach & Trainer Monday, December 28, 2009

    Fantastically relevant subject for an article! I have what I thought was a workable dichotomy: classically professional for face-to-face meetings and jogging suits/whatever for working at home. If anything, while working at home I like the idea of being able to sit right down to my desk with a minimum of prep and plow into the current day’s to-do list. It’s hard to say if (or how) a more professional outfit in my home office would affect my overall productivity.

    After reading your article and the above comment, as well as giving the issue some thought, I now want to try an experiment of my own: How would my attitude/demeanor/level of confidence change while making “cold calls” (something I – like most people – really hate) based on how I’m dressed while actually making the calls?!?!?

    Should be interesting!

  3. Michael Martine Monday, December 28, 2009

    Funny, I just wrote about how working from home means I don’t have to dress up (http://michaelmartine.posterous.com/working-from-home-is-the-shit-everything-youv), and then you go and publish this.

    I should try this just to see how it goes, since it seems like it could go either way, it would be worth a shot.

    Thanks for telling us about your experiment and getting us thinking.

  4. I have to agree that on the days I decide to “dress” even in khakis and a decent t-shirt instead of sweats and a baggy slogan t-shirt, I feel like I am more productive and focused.

  5. For me, how I dress when I’m out in public is quite important. However, at home I dress very casually — shorts and a tank in summer, sweatpants and a sweater in winter.

    Productivity is very important to me, and attitude and focus are crucial for high productivity. I’ll try wearing my public clothes at home and see how it affects my output.

  6. Peter Parkes (Skype Blogger) Tuesday, December 29, 2009

    Of course, it’s not just about physical visits from colleagues – if you’re working remotely and doing business by video call, then you may have even fewer excuses to stay in your pyjamas :)

  7. I will have to disagree. I am soooo uncomfortable in business casual that I spend the entire day fussing with my clothes or shoes. I would much rather work in jeans and a tee.

  8. I think this completely depends on the person. When I work in the office, I’m ‘dressed to kill’ and fairly productive. However, when I’m home and in my yoga pants and tank top, I’m so much more focused and more productive. Occasionally, I’ve dressed up in the morning and then worked from home and found it very distracting and kept wanting to leave my office. Perhaps it’s my role as an analyst or that I’ve been working primarily from home for 8 years, but dressing professionally when I’m working at home doesn’t work for me!

  9. Great article. My husband and I work side by side at home. Many days, we don’t even talk to each other except at lunch – which we only take because I make him stop and eat.

    Usually I’m in PJs… he’s in something close to PJs until one of us starts the trend of “getting ready for the day” or if I have to go into the office. I did want to get myself back into the gym though, so maybe creating a morning routine would make me more likely to implement the dressing for work at home experiment.

  10. Love this post mostly because it’s something I’m a bit conflicted about myself. I’ve started calling my pajama pants “work clothes.” While funny, its also kind of depressing. Wearing jeans shouldn’t be “dressing up”, but that’s where I’m at.

    So….I’ve decided I need to have one face-to-face meeting each week followed by a few hours working outside my home, preferably somewhere that serves lattes:) This way, I wear professional clothes and remember that I’m part of the working “world.”

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