Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dress Code

I remember the days when formal dress codes had such sexists requirements as women having to wear pantyhose. I always thought that those dress codes that were enforced went a bit overboard.  But as a consultant, you respect and adhere to the dress code at the client site.

I was so pleased when I first worked at Lands' End.  Their informal motto was: If we sell it you can wear it.  Well that changed a bit after they started selling swimwear and lingerie, but you get the idea.  Khaki was fine.  Denim was fine.  Shorts were fine.  For the most part everyone looked great, because their clothes were great I suppose.  But it was a casual dress environment and I realized that it didn't impact job productivity or performance at all. The employees at Lands End were smart and capable, professional and casually dressed.

I found the same atmosphere at AMD and other companies I've worked for.  It became the new norm.

Since then, I've visited game studios where dress codes are basically non-existent.  I asked about the pair of flip-flops (shoes) hanging on a hook near the front entrance and was told that meant shoes were not optional tomorrow (a client was probably visiting).  Yep, seriously.  These game studios also have some of the most intelligent and dedicated programmers too.  Casual dress doesn't adversely impact job performance there.  In fact I think it is expected, as a means of attracting top talent, that backward ideas of pretentious old-school dress codes are rejected.  And I bet if studies are done, it is found that allowing employees to dress in a manner in which they are most comfortable (okay nudists and exhibitionists excluded) may actually find that it improves productivity. Just a guess.

I can understand that those with roles that are customer facing are viewed as company stewards and should dress in a manner compatible with the brand and marketing and customer expectations of the company.  But what about those of us that never ever deal with external people?  What does the dress code have to do with my doing the job that I am hired to do?  Nothing in my opinion.

Since then I've had to work in more conservative offices again.  I don't mind.  It's a bit expensive having to go buy new business clothes that fit me (I've gained some weight since I last had to wear formal business attire).  But as I receive yet another blanket email tersely scolding their employees for dress code violations, I have to wonder if those people complaining about such things have enough "real" work to keep them busy.  Probably not, I suspect.

I will always chose a consulting opportunity with a more casual dress code over another, all else being equal.  I'll even drive farther, pay for parking, travel more, work longer hours and take less pay to work in a casual environment as long as the job they've got for me rocks. Well, the job would have to really really rock to take all those hits, but you get the picture.

One of the best companies where I've worked, Homeaway.com, had a super casual dress code and had some of the most brilliant and dedicated people I've ever had the pleasure to work with. Dress code had nothing to do with the caliber of the employee, or perhaps it was an inverse relationship?  At some of these more conservative shops with restrictive dress codes, the people are not even close to the high caliber of dot-com employees.  It isn't hard to shine in those old-school environments, while at Homeaway.com I simply blended in.

My point?  It isn't about how you look or dress, but about what you know and are able to do.  I wish more companies could embrace that concept.

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