Flip flops or formalwear? Traditional or modern attire? Does it really matter? For years, debate has raged over what constitutes acceptable office wear, with many companies in the Gulf Region continuing to lean towards the suit and tie school of thought.
But as the giants of Silicon Valley and their ilk begin to solidify their positions as captains of industry, the majority of them clad in little more than sneakers and t-shirts, the argument that success is linked to the way we dress is starting to lose some of its impetus. After all, when did you last see Mark Zuckerberg dressed to the nines? And he seems to be doing alright for himself.
That being said, it’s important to remember that the Zuckerberg dress code can’t be applied to just any business. If a team of lawyers showed up to represent you looking like they’d just wandered off the beach you’d likely take your business elsewhere. And by the same token, you’d probably be quite unnerved if you walked into a tech company to find all its developers decked out in starched shirts and jackets.
In business, perception is reality, and the dress code you employ within your walls ultimately forms a key part of your marketing strategy, subtly conveying what you stand for to both external and internal stakeholders. As such, it’s vital that these two elements are well aligned if you’re looking to achieve long-term success.
And what about productivity? Do vast swathes of exposed flesh make employees less likely to meet deadlines? Or does the stifling embrace of a buttoned-up collar render workers less efficient? Strong arguments exist to support both cases, but ultimately, findings show that productivity is linked strongly to comfort – whether that be in the form of a power suit or an ensemble that looks suspiciously like pyjamas.
Interestingly, what both schools of thought agree upon is the fact that work attire should be differentiated from that worn elsewhere. For most of us, our clothing exercises a strong power of suggestion, helping us to define place, time and purpose. If we find ourselves kitted out in sports garb, we’re conditioned to believe that we’ll be performing a task with some level of physical exertion, whilst if we’re clad in swimwear, our minds immediately engage with the prospect of sunshine and surf.
So whilst there’s no rulebook when it comes to work apparel, it’s not a bad idea to enforce a dress code of some description, both as a means to define your own culture and so as to create a professional setting in which employees are fully engaged with the tasks at hand.
How do you go about defining your dress code? Here are a few pointers to get you started:
ASK YOURSELF WHO YOU ARE
Before you start dressing to impress anyone else, first ask yourself what you stand for as a company. Do you pride yourself on your professionalism or do you prefer to let your work do the talking? Are you a group of driven A-types or is your work culture more easy going? Ultimately, your dress code should look not only to incorporate the views and personalities of the employees already in your employ, but also take into account what you aspire to as an organisation.
IDENTIFY YOUR CLIENTS
Whilst there’s something to be said for organisations that refuse to defer to client expectations, the reality is that these are the people paying the bills, and if your dress code is a deterrent when it comes to bolstering your bottom line, it’s possibly best you revisit it. Certain industries carry the weight of well-established expectations, and as such, clients and customers can feel ill at ease when the picture presented to them doesn’t correlate with that they had in mind. So whilst it’s ultimately your culture at the end of the day, you will need to placate the people keeping it afloat, so make sure that your dress code takes into account some of their sensibilities.
PICK YOUR PROSPECTIVES
Your dress code plays an enormous role in defining your Employer Value Proposition, and thus can have a huge impact on who you attract to your business. As such, it’s vital that you clearly define your idea of a cultural fit before you establish your dress code. After all, if you’re looking for hip, creative millennials but you’re rocking an uptight office look last seen in the late eighties, you’re probably not going to find what you’re looking for. Your dress code says more about who you are than any corporate brochure or onboarding website ever could, so make sure you bear this in mind when deciding on your internal look and feel.
ADAPT & EVOLVE
Remember that you don’t need to enforce the same dress code in every situation. After all, it’s not like your clients make a habit of hanging out at your office (if they do, you might want to revise your approach to business). So there is ample room to manoeuvre within the bounds of a broader dress code – for instance, you might look to enforce a suited and booted look for client meetings and an anything-goes approach within your walls. Ultimately, your aim should be to keep your clients and employees as comfortable as possible at all times, thus ensuring productivity levels remain high and cash flow remains constant.