Will the sweatpants come to the office when we get back?

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As American workers, including those in accounting firms, return to their desks, one of the unexpected challenges has been figuring out what to wear.

For over a year now, clothing such as pajamas, casual wear, sweatpants and comfy T-shirts have replaced the khakis and skirts typically worn most of the time in many offices. As long as we sat for the online conferences and Zoom meetings, we dressed well for business above screen level and for vacation below.

Some changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic – such as increased remote working and increased use of technology instead of more expensive travel – could survive the pandemic. But what about the less formal “dress codes” that people adopt when working from home? Will workplaces, especially those that had already become more flexible by adopting “dress for your day” policies, will continue to adopt even more informal clothing?

More directly: will we be wearing sweatpants – and the “tailoring” associated with the home office – in the actual workplace?

Unsurprisingly, the move towards less formal clothing finally seems to have hit a wall among athletes. Employees of most companies will not be able to meet customers while dressed for the gym. But HR professionals at several CPA firms across the country are offering some ideas on how to make it easier for their teams to return to office mode while maintaining comfort.

Provide choices. Kimberly Hensarling, director of talent and human resources in the Atlanta office of Windham Brannon, recalls the activities commemorating the company’s 60th anniversary four years ago. Windham Brannon, which has 170 employees, celebrated for an entire year, with special events scheduled each month.

“We decided that in July we were going to try and dress you up for your day,” she said.

Dress for the Day, an idea that is growing in popularity, allows employees to choose their attire based on whether they are seeing customers or working in the office. “We gave our employees guidelines outlining preferred casual clothes and asked them to refrain from being too relaxed, like wearing jeans with holes or clothes that were too revealing,” Hensarling said. At the end of the month, company executives realized that employees enjoyed dressing up for their day so much that they decided to keep the policy in place.

For those times when a customer calls for an emergency requiring a face-to-face meeting, employees keep packed travel bags in their desks or more professional clothing hung on the back of their office door. “I think it comes down to the professional image that we want to convey, that we want our employees to always look presentable,” said Hensarling.

Consider customer expectations. At Gumbiner Savett, a Santa Monica, Calif. Company that recently merged with BPM LLP, staff have been encouraged to wear clothing that reflects the work environment of their clients, said Irene Valverde, director of business development. . Her company encourages employees to check their clients’ dress policies before they go.

“We encourage them to consider whether they need to dress or if they can dress more casually, as long as they follow the client’s dress code,” she said.

The company is drawing the line for sweatpants and has yet to answer staff questions about post-pandemic dress codes, but said a few who worked in the office were more casual than usual as they did not meet clients. “We’re already working in a relaxed environment, and when we get back the plan is to go back to pretty much the same dress code we had before,” said Valverde.

Office culture matters. At James Moore, office culture is paramount. The company’s 200 employees draw on advice from the culture committees in its four Florida offices, and are responsible for planning events, mentoring new hires and reviewing office policies, including dress codes, said human resources director Julie Kniseley. “Our culture is incredibly important to us, and we integrate it into our daily lives.”

While the company has not taken the plunge to allow employees to wear sweatpants at work, four years ago the culture committee decided to join other professional companies who have added an option. dress code for the day and gave their employees more discretion on their desks. outfit with guidelines ranging from business attire to business casual to jeans.

James Moore touts this dress policy to attract young employees at career fairs, college career days and student leadership summits. Company recruiters, who wear jeans and polo shirts at these events, believe their casual attire attracts potential new hires and helps them feel more relaxed and at ease. Their clothes also indicate that the company is a great place to work. “We want to look professional, but we also want to demonstrate our relaxed culture in a visual way,” Kniseley said.

Dress casual for charity. While CPA firms may not be ready to convert their day-to-day clothing policies to include sweatpants or casual wear, some aren’t ruling out incorporating an ultra-casual day into their business. fundraising efforts.

At James Moore, the culture committee has further relaxed its dress code for charity.

When the company decided to dress for the day several years ago, executives wanted to continue fundraising for charity, which they did on their casual Fridays. Now employees can wear whatever they want in exchange for a donation.

“We’ve seen everything from pajamas to suits and, being Florida, a lot of shorts and flip flops,” Kniseley said.

Reset expectations for return to the office. Before returning staff to an office environment, it is important to let them know what to expect when they return. At BPM, most staff and professionals are eager to return to the office, Valverde said. “The majority of our group want to come back at least a few days a week because they think they are more efficient in the office,” she said.

Management is responsible for reinstating policies that help employees feel comfortable returning, she added. She advises business leaders to listen to employees and establish back-to-office dress code policies that work for the majority of the team, including management.

“Happy and comfortable staff generally make staff more productive and a work environment less stressful,” she said.

Teri saylor is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director at [email protected]


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