Let’s be honest: One of the perks of working from home is that you can do it in your pajamas. The term "dress for success" need not apply when you can roll out of bed and be on duty in a minute or less.
I work from home, and I confess that my yoga pants serve as both my workout and work attire. I like to be comfortable while I write, but is my relaxed dress impacting my work?
The short answer is "yes." Researchers Joy V. Peluchette and Katherine Karl conducted a study that was published in Human Resource Development Quarterly, and found that participants reported feeling more authoritative, trustworthy, and competent when wearing formal business attire.
Mason Donovan, author of The Golden Apple: Redefining Work-Life Balance for a Diverse Workforce, agrees that clothing affects your work: "Although a dress code may seem silly when you think about working from home, work clothes impact you on a business and personal level and can affect your career," he says.
"It’s a physical and visual distinction, and it helps me set boundaries. Otherwise you could feel like work never ends."
Whether you’re a yoga-pant-wearing independent contractor like me, or you telecommute or own a home-based business, Donovan says there are six reasons why you should dress up in workplace attire.
- YOU MAINTAIN A PROFESSIONAL PERCEPTION
If you are part of a team and participate in video meetings, it’s important to dress the part, says Donovan.
"Video connections help form relationships, and if you are not dressed for success, you could be sending the wrong message," he says, adding that casual clothes can send the message that you’re not working. "It might look like you just rolled out of bed. The visual is powerful, and perception becomes reality."
- YOU BOOST YOUR OWN PRODUCTIVITY
What we put on influences how we act. A study from Northwestern University found that certain clothing can influence the wearer’s psychological processes.
"Wearing a lab coat described as a doctor's coat increased sustained attention compared to wearing a lab coat described as a painter's coat, and compared to simply seeing or even identifying with a lab coat described as a doctor's coat," wrote researchers Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinsky. "The influence of clothes thus depends on wearing them and their symbolic meaning."
Dressing professional puts us in a different mental state, adds Donovan. "We feel more present, and we have a higher level of commitment and engagement," he says.
- YOU COMPLY WITH COMPANY CULTURE
If your company has a dress code, you should not feel you’re above the rules, says Donovan. "Comply with the culture of the rest of the company," he says. "You don’t want to put your job in jeopardy."
The idea that you should dress for the job you want still pertains, Donovan adds. "If that happens to be the captain of couch surfing, then go ahead and dress for the part," he says. "But if it’s to manage a global team, dressing for that job will be what is expected of you by others and unconsciously by yourself."
- YOU CREATE BOUNDARIES
While the lines between work and home are blurring, dressing in business wear during office hours can help to create a separation of your work and personal sides.
"Wearing work clothes can send a signal that you’re working and shouldn’t be disturbed."
Donovan, who is a principal of the diversity and inclusion consulting firm The Dagoba Group, wears a button-down shirt and dress pants to work from home and says it signifies that he’s his work self. "When I change into casual clothes, it’s a physical and visual distinction, and it helps me set boundaries," he says. "Otherwise you could feel like work never ends. Your personal life could take over work time or your work commitments can take over personal time. Clothing helps create a distinct separation."
- YOU GIVE OTHERS A VISUAL REMINDER
When you work from home, other people in your household or personal circle may not understand and respect your time. "If you are in jeans and a T-shirt, it wouldn’t come to mind to someone else that you’re working," says Donovan. "Wearing work clothes can send a signal that you’re working and shouldn’t be disturbed."
- YOU CAN HELP KEEP YOUR FOCUS
It’s common to be in a situation where you’re physically present but mentally somewhere else, such as checking email while you’re in a meeting. Clothes help you to collocate, says Donovan. "Clothes can act as a reminder, dragging you mentally into work mode," he says. "If you’re wearing dress clothes, you will be far less likely to do chores. Clothes can pull you away from tangents that try to pull you away mentally."
TESTING THE THEORY
While I love my workout/work attire, I decided to try the concept and dressed as if I were going to an office for a week. What you wear to work from home should reflect the culture of your company, advises Donovan. "If you are independent, you might want to reflect the culture of clients," he says.
I chose dress pants, a blouse, and a blazer, as well as a couple of dresses that have been collecting dust in my closet. I was very skeptical that it would make a difference, but I quickly found that I was wrong. I tend to take care of household tasks while I work, throwing in a load of laundry or taking a work break to make a bed. While it’s nice to check these tasks off of my to-do list, the practice breaks up my day and serves as an easy form of procrastination. Wearing work clothes, however, kept me in work mode. I felt more focused—even though my laundry did pile up.
I changed into casual clothes at 5 p.m., and the act gave my day a distinct shift. This felt like an improvement to work-life balance because I tend to feel like I’m always working. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel the urge to respond to after-hours emails, and I even took an entire weekend off.
While I might don my yoga pants on my own personal casual Friday, I will definitely keep up this experiment. "Dress for success" just might be my new productivity mantra.