ArticlePDF Available

Dress Code Expectations and Working from Home

  • The Brooks Group, LLC Chicago, United States
The Career Coaching Corner
Dress Code Expectations and
Working from Home
Beth A. Brooks, PhD, RN, FACHE
The spread of the coronavirus has meant that the
workplace will be forever redefined under a
new normal,where one of those new realties is
that most teams will continue to work remotely. What
had been long accepted, standard expectations in the
traditional office-based workplace are also being
upended, in many instances virtually overnight. A
simple example is that of the remote workplace dress
code, an area that one would think should be fairly
straightforward to address. Many organizations had
already begun relaxing their dress code expectations,
and why? As more and more people have been
working from home during the corona virus pandemic,
those businesses continued to conclude (rightly or
wrongly) that fashionactually has less of an effect on
the employee work ethic than was once imagined.
With all of those Zoom meetings that are now routinely
taking place, and with no meeting participant other
than you knowing that your meetings footwear selec-
tion for the day consists of your 10-year-old flip-flops,
you may also be wondering what exactly is the press-
ing need to adhere to a dress code that likely was
developed for an on-site office environment? First and
foremost, and as much as we might like to wear shorts,
sweats, pajamas, etc. to our videoconferences, common
sense dictates that even within the relative anonymity
of your own home or other personal space, you still
need to be able to present yourself to others, whether
they be coworkers, clients, or potential clients as a
professional representative of your organization. This
months column summarizes for you why it makes
sense that standards of dress continue to be a basic
expectation, even when the workplace has morphed
into a primarily remote one.
Dressing professionally continues to holds value within
any workforce because it gives employees credibility
and demonstrates how it is they fit in with their work
environment and business culture. In previous col-
umns, Ive discussed signaling theory; the signals you
send infer inobservable information (e.g., profession-
alism) from observable attributes (e.g., attire). By
dressing appropriately for meetings, even when those
meetings are via Zoom or Skype video calls, employees
can successfully project a professional image and be a
positive reflection of the organization. Thats not to say
that given the remote workplace realities, there cantbe
some flexibility to the dress code policy, and at a
minimum, something like a dress code shouldnt get in
the way of how teams are best able to engage. But any
flexibility will still need to be defined on an
organization-by-organization basis.
Even for selected teams within an organizations cul-
ture where more casual work attire makes sense when
working primarily with teammates on a daily basis,
there will still be a need for business attiredays
whenever, for example, meeting with clients or making
a new business presentation. Hopefully, when the
pandemic is in our historys rearview mirror, organi-
zations wont revert back to this is always how weve
done things,focusing instead on this is the way we
could do thingsand look at this as an opportunity to
rethink their dress code policy.
Whatever ones position on the issue of the appropri-
ateness of dress codes in general, many arent at all sure
how to make the right impression on Zoom and Skype,
presenting to their own team, delivering a presentation
to a senior leadership group, attending a conference, or
interviewing for a job. Like it or not, your appearance
is going to say a lot about you before youve even had a
chance to speak. You want to make sure youre dressed
appropriate to your meetings purpose and its
If youre meeting with or presenting to senior leaders
or engaging with a new client, coming across as an
expert may be the priority. Given that many pro-
fessionals deemed as experts”—for example, lawyers,
investment bankers, consultantstypically wear suits,
its no surprise that business professional attire is most
often associated with such expertise. And for those who
work in an organization where business attire is the
norm, one should maintain that same level of profes-
sionalism even in a virtual meeting. One should never December 2020 517
make the erroneous assumption that since ones work
environment has changed, ones work attire can
change as well.
The good news is that it really doesnt need to be all
that complicated. When it comes to making a positive
impression in a virtual meeting, the participants have
more control than they may have thought possible.
Dressing for success still allows you to make that great
first impression (or not). My advice is simple: put forth
the same level of effortif not moreinto presenting
yourself for an onscreen meeting. Your attire should be
similar to what youd wear to work or the office on any
ordinary day, even though you may be working in a
more casual environment.
When working at home, your first instinct might be to
dress down. But again, and contrary to that instinct,
your attire should match what would normally be ex-
pected at the officeyour appearance should still be
professional, and it should reflect the organization you
work for. If your organization is normally business
casual, then its acceptable to be in business casual
attire so long as you still look presentable overall. Even
executives in more formal workplace environments are
believers in business casual wear, particularly if the
meeting is internal. However, if participants in your
virtual meeting will all be wearing suits and ties, then
you should dress the same, regardless. Your attire can
be comfortable but should make you feel confident. If
ever in doubt, it never hurts to dress a little more
formally and conservatively.
If you know that your organization has relaxed the
dress code standards during the pandemic, the rule of
thumb is that you still need to neatly present yourself.
That baseball hat or 2 days of beard growth is probably
not signaling what you intend. This means attention to
grooming. Showering, combing your hair, washing
your face, brushing your teeth, applying make-up, and
wearing clean, unwrinkled clothes are a must. Having
attended a virtual conference, wake, wedding, and
innumerable virtual meetings over the past 5 months, I
am no longer surprised by those that look like they just
rolled out of bed.
Business meetings held in virtual settings come with
some familiar rules along with some rules that are
going to be different, and you would be well advised to
remember your professional etiquette. For some, these
new workplace environments with less direct face-to-
face interactions and remote supervision may seem
like an ideal opportunity to kick back and avoid work,
multitask while on a call, miss deadlines, or be late to
meetings. But it takes even more discipline and
commitment to stay professional and productive in the
new reality.
For those who arent used to working remotely, you
may need to develop the discipline to succeed in that
environment. Its actually harder than most people
might imagine having their new office based at home.
One simple means of developing the mentality youll
need to maintain your productivity standards is to be
sure that you are dressing for work every day. If you
ever find yourself on a particular day lacking the
motivation to get your work done, try getting dressed as
if you were going to the office. Its a mental cue to your
brain and body that you are ready to report for work
on time and as scheduled.
Think carefully about where to conduct virtual meet-
ings. A home office is ideal, but in the absence of a
home office, try to find a quiet corner of a room in
which to work (which can be difficult if children are
home!), then select one of the virtual backgrounds
provided by the meeting software platforms that proj-
ect a professional image. Virtual backgrounds will
prevent others from being distracted by family mem-
bers and pets that may move into camera view and will
keep your home private. If you decide to turn off the
video camera, be sure you have uploaded a profes-
sional headshot photograph. In this way, when the
video camera is off, there is a professional photograph
along with your name. Also, make sure your com-
puters camera is at eye level to ensure the best viewing
angle. This may require elevating your laptop on a
short stack of books or raising your computers
monitor. There is nothing worse than looking at
someones neck or up into a nose. Also, be familiar
with how to mute the audio to minimize background
By dressing the part and sending personal grooming
signals to coworkers, colleagues, and clients, they will
continue to see you as the professional that you are and
want to be seen as. For you personally, creating a work-
like environment and adhering to professional etiquette
will be demonstrating a conscious effort to remain
focused. The new virtual work realities will be a great
reminder for you that although your work setting may
have changed, you are still at work.
Beth A. Brooks, PhD, RN, FACHE, was presented with
AONEs Mentor Award in 2017. Dr. Brooks is President
& CEO of The Brooks Group, LLC, a Chicago-based
career coaching, personal brand, and consulting rm.
She can be reached at bethbrooks@thebrooksgroupllc.
1541-4612/2020/$ See front matter
Copyright 2020 by Elsevier Inc.
All rights reserved.
518 December 2020
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.