Using Your Office Dress Code to Impress Visitors

We’ve talked about a lot of unconventional ways to impress office visitors, such as a state of the art visitor sign-in system or a fresh, on-brand office design. However, another big factor in the impression your company makes requires a little more finesse: It’s how your employees dress at work.

The receptionist, in particular, plays a unique role in making the first impression any visitor gets of a company or organization. However, the way the rest of the staff dresses also speaks volumes about the company’s culture.

Setting the expectations for what your employees wear to work requires balancing the impression they will make on outsiders (clients, job candidates, partners) with their ability to work happily and productively. Sometimes those interests align perfectly. Other times, compromise is needed.

Either way, if you’ve noticed that the way your employees present themselves visually isn’t reflecting the values you want to impress to visitors, it’s time for some improvements.

Dressing for the Brand

You can’t know whether your office dress code is helping enhance your brand image if you don’t have a clear idea of what that brand image is.

If you haven’t put a lot of time and effort into developing your brand identity yet, a quick shortcut is to list a handful of words you’d like the public to associate with your company. Here are some random examples to get you thinking: creative, innovative, friendly, on-trend, expert, helpful, relatable, minimalist, cutting edge, trustworthy, traditional, modern, ethical, luxurious, eco-friendly.

The words you choose should describe your business’ approach to everything from product design to office decor and yes, dress code. Here are a few examples:

  • If it’s important that your company appear modern and creative, your employees should be encouraged to dress with style and flair.
  • An eco-friendly, earth-conscious company shouldn’t prioritize expensive, fashion-forward clothing and opt instead for sustainable, neutral looks.
  • A company that wants to be relatable and friendly might choose to have their employees dress for comfort, so they can project a casual and happy vibe as they interact with the public.

As you can see, implementing a great, on-brand dress code isn’t exactly as simple as choosing between business formal or business casual.

You might be wondering how you can put something as vague as “dress fashionably so our company can look modern” into an official dress code that makes any sense. However, it turns out that the most effective dress codes may not be the ones in the employee manuals.

The Silent Dress Code

Most companies have no formal dress code at all. And plenty of companies only have them to focus on safety measures, like protective clothing.

However, most offices have an unspoken understanding of how employees should dress. Employees take their cues from higher-ups. As company culture develops, it informs the kind of style that’s expected in the office. And although employees tend to appreciate being told specifically what’s expected of them, perceptive employees can often figure out the implied dress code on their own, without needing a formal policy.

That’s why it may be better to focus more on making sure leaders set a good example with their style, and that all employees are very familiar with brand values.

Diana Jennings, a branding consultant and non-verbal communication specialist, sums it up well in this blog post:

“For employers, the best solution is to go back to basics and work on increasing brand awareness while highlighting the employees’ role in representing the brand, and, in turn, their personal brands. It begins in-house and requires on-going communication and dialogue about the brand message and how it will be communicated on all levels throughout the organization. Companies need to be clear on what the brand is, what it looks like, and how it will be experienced.”

Jennings goes on to say that many companies send mixed messages about their dress codes, despite good intentions, by expecting formal dress most of the time and then making exceptions. This can confuse employees (who may take things a little too far on casual Fridays) and clients (who may get their only impression of the company on those days).

Companies may also run into problems when managers have different ideas about what’s appropriate, leading to a haphazard set of expectations with no consistency in image.

Brand emphasis, thoughtful culture consistency, and accountability on the part of leadership go a long way toward helping your employees understand how they are expected to present themselves at work.

HR pro Todd Richardson made a good point, quoted in Forbes:

“The absence of a dress code will not result in people coming to work naked. People are reasonable. Trust managers to hire the right employees and employees to act in a way that is in tune with your workplace culture. If you can’t trust people to dress appropriately, then you’ve hired the wrong people. Stress to employees that you trust them to act appropriately in all that they do, including how they dress.”

Making it Official

Despite the fact that most companies can get by without an official dress code, having one in writing does have some perks.

For one thing, a written policy may be useful in the case of the rare employee who isn’t great with social cues and repeatedly dresses inappropriately. Having the documentation to refer to leaves less room for misinterpretation and is good from a legal standpoint.

A dress code that’s incorporated into the company handbook can also help make sure that there’s no confusion and that the policy is enforced consistently — and that rogue managers aren’t enforcing different rules throughout the company.

However, if you do opt to pursue a written policy, make sure that you have it reviewed by a lawyer. Law regarding dress codes vary by state, but they all generally exist to make sure that companies don’t discriminate against any protected group. Dress codes should be gender neutral, and should accommodate people with disabilities and religious needs. (For more examples, check out this Nolo article.)

Many small business owners are hesitant to spend the time it takes to develop a company dress code. It isn’t exactly a mission-critical task, after all. However, a policy doesn’t have to be exhaustive to be effective. Drilling down to details like how to hide piercings and appropriate skirt length measurements may not be necessary, for example. A simple policy that states how employees should present themselves in a way that reflects your company’s values can be really helpful in clarifying the image you want to present.

Dress codes can be simple philosophies about how employees’ style relates to company values. #ReceptionistApp Click To Tweet

If you’re looking for another way to make a great impression on visitors, we invite you to try The Receptionist. It’s a tablet-based app that lets companies create a branded, streamlined, customized check-in process for each visitor type. You can start your 14-day trial today.

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