Years ago, as he was preparing for a conference my company was putting on, an IT consultant on the program called me to ask about the dress code, specifically whether he should wear dress shoes. Normally, he said, he only wore dress shoes if it was, “buryin’ day.”
I thought about this exchange as I read a Twitter thread
by another one of our IT experts, Dave Michels of the analyst firm TalkingPointz. Dave was musing about the way standards of formality have changed during the pandemic, riffing off a Wall Street Journal article
about men who still dress up even though they work remotely. Such a notion seemed crazy to me until I actually read the article, which cited some instances where dressing up still seemed like the right thing to do — for example, a trial lawyer who wears a suit and tie to video hearings. You wouldn’t want your lawyer showing up before the judge decked out in a hoodie or whatever.
One of Dave’s commenters remarked that while he doesn’t dress up for remote work, he can’t wait to get back to the office so that he can dress up more. On one level, that makes sense. When you go out into the world, you expect to dress the part. But does that suggest a permanent bifurcation — the same employee coming across as a schlub on video, stylin’ at the office?
Dave suggests that technology itself is supplanting personal clothing choices. “Evidently the new way to express yourself is via [video] backgrounds, not fashion,” he tweeted. I’m not sure I completely agree with that; I think backgrounds have become passe; they make your head and torso look like an amoeba under a microscope if you move at all, and whimsical backgrounds can seem jarring if a meeting starts to go south. Imagine getting into a contentious exchange with someone who’s got the ubiquitous Bernie Sanders-in-mittens meme looming over their shoulder.
But I think Dave’s right that, as our work lives and personal presence increasingly exist in cyberspace, the signifiers we use will change. He’ll touch on some of these changes in a talk he’ll deliver at a virtual event
presented by our sister brand, Enterprise Connect, March 9-10. His title is, “The Home-Based Office of the Future
,” examining both the technology and work-style trends coming in the next three years.
For example, many of the nonverbal cues that we send out in person while in the office get communicated through abstractions now built into our collaboration tools. In his presentation, Dave will look at the ways that we signal availability through our tools, how we reach out to people proactively through technology, and how we engage each other in “non-productive” (but still important) communications.
The medium is the message, as they say, whether that medium is a Windsor knot or a “Do Not Disturb” icon that seems permanently affixed to a particular colleague’s identity in the collaboration application. How we present ourselves — and how our employers demand we present ourselves — will be one of the new areas of discussion as we move into a world of hybrid remote/office-based work.