by Robin Padilla, Ph. D, Product Management | Research & Development | Science Publishing & Communication, Springer Nature
(Reposted with permission from Robin Padilla’s LinkedIn page)
I’ve been touched by friends and colleagues sharing their personal experiences of working under lockdown. These stories have inspired me to share my own (lighthearted) insights as a “research study.”
Title: Why Do I Dress Professionally While Working From My Kitchen Table Under Lockdown?
Abstract: Dressing professionally while working from home has three benefits; 1) business attire catalyzes a productive mindset and prepares one for impromptu video calls 2) the improved self-perception from wearing business attire cultivates a sense of control in tense and uncertain times 3) alternating between professional and casual clothing mediates the required rest time critical for high performance output and positive motivation. These findings may apply beyond NYC-based product directors.
Background: To manage the COVID-19 pandemic, many governments worldwide issued shelter-in-place orders (“lockdown”). These lockdowns resulted in many companies mandating work-from-home (WFH). This is a major challenge since I am not a “WFH guy”. Living alone in a “cozy” NYC apartment, I vastly prefer the camaraderie of colleagues in the office to the isolation of WFH. Thus, adjusting to mandated WFH requires solutions that promote both productivity and overall well-being.
Dressing professionally during WFH is an appealing solution as it may produce the benefits that wearing business attire normally does, e.g., looking and feeling cool, calm, and collected. Maintaining separate wardrobes for work and non-work situations could also better mediate the mental transitions between “mostly work” and “mostly non-work” hours.
Methods and Materials
Two sets of clothing were used in the study.
The first set consisted of men’s business attire as worn in much of the world. This included: suits, neckties, dress shirts, sport coats, and unfunny socks (Figure 1). Devastatingly, dress shoes were out of scope as I do not wear shoes inside my apartment. While in business clothes, motivational and overall well-being levels were noted during typical working hours (~7:00 – 16:00 EST). Work was performed at my kitchen table. Video calls, however, were conducted in my living room due to its superior lighting and unobtrusive wall art (Figure 2).
(Figure 1: Examples of product director in professional attire.)
(Figure 2: Selected wall art in product director’s living room.)
The second clothing set consisted of men’s casual-, sport-, and lounge wear. This included: hoodies, sweatpants, track jackets, t-shirts, and funny socks (Figure 3). While wearing casual clothes, motivational and overall well-being levels were noted during typical non-working hours (~16:00 – 7:00 EST the following day). Non-work activities such as exercise, reading, TV, and meditating, were not conducted at my kitchen table.
(Figure 3: Examples of product director in casual attire.)
Results and Discussion
When working in a proper office, the process (ritual) of dressing professionally and commuting creates a high work energy mindset in me. In WFH, commuting may be gone but dressing professionally at home often created a similar mindset of high energy and motivation (Figure 4). Because I always look presentable, I am always ready for impromptu video calls. Also, compliments and teasing about “why I’m always so darn dressed up” promote an amusing and easygoing work atmosphere.
(Figure 4: Clothing-related motivational slogan. Origin unknown.)
Wearing business attire during WFH helps me feel more motivated and more confident. Psychologists have identified this phenomenon as enclothed cognition: “the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes.” To paraphrase the old saying “clothes can help make the (wo)man.”
The seemingly simple act of intentional dressing empowers me to focus on what I can control in life. There will continue to be massive healthcare, economic, social, and political uncertainties for the foreseeable future. Dwelling on these uncertainties can easily create massive anxiety and stress. In great contrast, I find things like determining optimal shirt-tie-jacket combinations to be highly enjoyable and relaxing.
The seemingly simple act of intentional dressing empowers me to focus on what I can control in life.
The last component of the study was wearing non-office clothes when not working. This definitely created a relaxed mindset. Transitioning between work and non-work attire helps create a healthy boundary to allow enough rest and recuperation. My product team is dispersed across India, Germany, and the UK. Based in NY, I could theoretically work all day to maximize “overlap time” across regions. But that would quickly burn me out. Taking time to relax and recharge, and dressing precisely for that occasion, is a major reason I can maintain high energy levels, enthusiasm, and productivity. In the classic “High Output Management”, legendary Intel president Andy Grove wrote (in 1983!):
“My day always ends when I’m tired and ready to go home, not when I’m done. I am never done…a manager’s work is never done. There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more that can be done.”
Conclusion and Future Work
Dressing professionally during WFH has distinct benefits: boosting motivational levels and preparedness, creating a relaxed space to better manage the global situation, and better enforcement of work/relaxation time boundaries, which improves both working and personal relaxation time.
While the results were conclusively positive in this case, there are challenges to wider application. For example, the ability and/or desire to dress professionally may be limited by WFH in the presence of spouses, small children, dogs, and cats. Especially cats. That said, the benefits of “dressing for the occasion” and the underlying principles could conceivably be implemented in creative ways under multiple circumstances.
A special thanks to all colleagues, especially those who have complimented and poked fun at how I dress. No need to take ourselves too seriously! Critical material support was provided by the following suppliers:
*Thoughts and views expressed here are purely my own and do not necessarily represent those of my colleagues or employer. Poe’s Law compliance declaration: this post is mainly for fun’s sake and findings have not been peer reviewed.