I don’t know exactly when it happened, but very early on in telecommuting and having people work from home, there arose the myth that, “They’re sitting at home in their bunny slippers…” This raises two important questions:
- Who actually owns bunny slippers, anyway?
- So what?
That’s not being facetious (well, not for the sake of being a smart-aleck anyway). Those are legitimate questions. Let’s take them one at a time.
The question of bunny slippers (or in my case, my favorite Toshiro Mifune/Samurai Tshirt) presumes that unless you are dressed for work in the same clothes that you would wear to the office, you are somehow going to do work that is sub-par or otherwise unprofessional. There is no general evidence to support that thesis. Study after study shows that when people work from home, they are (in general, your mileage may vary) more productive on individual tasks. You may still be dressed for the gym, but that doesn’t mean you’re not kicking butt on that quarterly report.
In a way, it makes sense. If people are not focused on the time it takes to carefully coif themselves and spend time on a commute, they’ll probably spend at least some of that time on productive work. Also, if they’re relaxed and comfortable, there’s a good chance they’ll be more creative (or at least not LESS creative) which is a good thing.
Now, it’s important to take the second question into account. Does not dressing “professionally” impact the work? There are two things to take into consideration:
- The workstyle of the individual person. Many of us are creatures of habit. After years of working from home, I’ve discovered that routine is my friend. Most days I put the coffee on, shower and put on some kind of business-casual work clothes. Usually it’s a polo shirt and khakis, but it’s different than what I’d wear to the gym or around the house on the weekend. Psychologically it helps me prepare for the day. If the work is mostly creative, this might not matter, but putting on “big-person clothes” has been shown to impact professionalism and focus. When you’re at work, you’re not doing the laundry.
- How they’re dressed impacts their interactions with others. If I’m fresh from the gym, I may be relaxed and comfortable, but that doesn’t mean I want to inflict my sweaty self on my teammates by being on webcam. If people are avoiding taking advantage of technology because they are a mess, or their home office looks like a tornado hit it, then it’s impacting the work and needs to be addressed. If everyone on the team looks professional, and I’m the one team member who looks like I’m on the way to an AC/DC concert, maybe I need to step up my game, before I get a reputation as someone who’s less professional than the rest of the team.
Many organizations are still figuring out the dynamics at play when people telecommute, and err on the side of letting people do what they want. That’s great… if it’s working. As a manager, are you checking in with people to see how they’re really doing? Is the team talking smack about certain individuals, and is that criticism valid? These aren’t easy conversations, but they’re part of helping manage the performance of teleworkers and your overall team.
To learn more about managing productive remote teams or maximizing your own productivity as a remote employee, check out these resources:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.