Dressing the Part: How Important Are Business Clothes If You Work from Home?

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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