The last time I actually went into the office to work, I had a lot of questions. What should I bring with me? Who else is going to be there? Where should I sit, and what can I plug my laptop into? Should I wear a mask? And of course, what else should I wear?
Up and coming casual fashion brand Splendid calls this the Universal Wardrobe Dilemma: “Gotta look dressed up but want to stay feelin’ comfy. Wish I could just wake up ‘n’ roll outta bed and be ready in two seconds.” Sounds familiar, right?
The push-and-pull we feel around wanting to dress comfortably but professionally is a reflection of a more complicated work environment. Some companies are trying to mandate their employees return to the office, while others are embracing remote work as a part of the new normal.
The relationship between employee and employer is under strain too. The rise of remote work and digital productivity tools have resulted in some organizations tracking and evaluating their employees’ work habits in more detail than ever before. Meanwhile, “quiet quitting” has become a divisive topic which career coach Alison Peck describes as people “not bending over backwards for their employers anymore and sacrificing their mental and physical health.”
So that’s a lot, and all you’re trying to do is pick something to wear into the office.
Splendid’s answer is their LYR collection, short for “layer,” a set of wear-anywhere pieces that fit in whether you’re lounging around at home, going in to work or going out on the town. So is that it? Problem solved?
Tempting as a one-size-fits-all answer is, reality tells us that the right clothes to wear to the office depends on the office. Some (like mine) take a relatively relaxed view on what’s appropriate to wear to work. If you’re in the legal profession or work for a bank or financial institution, standards tend to be more restrictive, even after the pandemic.
It helps to take a step back for a moment. If your customers are looking for the “right” uniforms for a return to the office, first ask them about what is important to their employees. Here’s a few of the answers you might hear.
We humans are driven by a powerful need to connect. A team at work means shared experiences and goals, and the connections we build there can lead to better productivity and improved health. For those proud to be part of a team, working together in the same space is the biggest driver for going back into the office.
Just like sports fans wear their team gear everywhere, that work team pride can be shown off both in and out of work. Blankets have a built-in warm and fuzzy feeling that is further enhanced when you see a team logo or message on it. Polished puffy jackets and vests go just as well in the office as they do while grocery shopping or at your kids’ soccer practice, and act as a reminder that you’re always part of the team.
Self-starters are great to have around because for them, the work itself is the inspiration. While they can be fiercely individual and like to work on their own, they also appreciate demonstrations of respect and recognition for their accomplishments.
Offering a wide range of apparel and accessories that respects their unique taste is important, and pieces that are individualized to the person through decoration is another way to accomplish this. A brand like Port Authority, with everything from base layers to outerwear in the same color palette, is a good place to start.
Most employees want to know that the work they do matters to someone. Younger generations, including Millennials and Gen Z, are particularly concerned with how their work benefits other people and the wider world.
What better way to show that you understand this, than by offering apparel and accessories that also make a difference in how they’re made? Sustainable choices like the C-FREE collection or Allmade show that you want to make a difference too.
Lifelong learners are explorers, and they take every job as an opportunity to learn more about the world around them, about a specific craft, or even (maybe especially) about themselves. Fostering this kind of employee could mean a versatile collection of apparel and accessories that adapts to different situations.
Think about what they might find useful as they explore their personal and career growth. A sturdy OGIO bag encourages travel and the spirit of discovery, and who doesn’t love a good vest or jacket when it comes to being ready for anything?
For some employees, work is a means to an end – and that’s OK. A steady paycheck and a good benefits package are still powerful motivators to do good work, even when the priority is personal health or taking care of those closest to us.
For the health-conscious, consider a selection of activewear that enables a healthy, active lifestyle whether they’re at work, at home or somewhere in between. More family-oriented employees might appreciate bringing the people they care about into their work experience, so make sure you have flexible options for men, women and even youth.
While I don’t have answers to all the questions I started with, my recent visit was a reminder of how good it feels to unexpectedly see a familiar face in the hallway, or solve a problem working with a colleague at their desk instead of through a chat window. Going back to the office can (and probably will) feel weird for many reasons, but I remembered that those connections we forge there are real, and worth renewing. Taking a closer look at questions like this shows employees that they are valued, respected and included no matter what they bring to the table.
Next month we shift gears a little to examine the untethered worker, and how apparel can bring them together in a common cause. I hope you’ll join us!