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Business Casual or Casual Business

More and more it seems that businesses are doing away with the traditional aesthetics of the office place and embracing less conservative perspectives on what an office environment should look like. Although this process has occurred in virtually all industries and workplaces, there are some extreme examples that instantly come to mind. Whether it is Google’s incorporation of slides into the workplace, Wieden + Kennedy’s insistence on having a literal bird nest a stone’s throw away to stimulate creative ideas, or product development company Davison’s workplace set a top a pirate ship, the office environment has received a major face lift. Which begs the question, is a more casual workplace more conducive to good work and high productivity? Although it might seem like a no brainer to follow Google’s example and cultivate a more casual atmosphere at your place of business, we decided to look at some data to see if it is actually an effective means of improving productivity and employee happiness.

Casual Friday a Success

To get a view of the potential success of loosening up your workplace culture, we began by looking at studies focusing on the implementation of Casual Friday; and the data is generally pretty good. In a 1995 Survey of human resource managers, it was found that allowing employees to dress down one day a week improved employee morale, saved employees money, and was often used effectively as an incentive to attract new employees. Further in a more empirical study conducted in 1998 by Dan Yates and Dr. Gwen Jones of Farleigh Dickinson University, it was found that one day absences and Friday absences reduced significantly after the implementation of casual days. Interestingly, the workplace in Yates and Jones’ study eventually decided to implement casual business dress for all work days after seeing the obvious advantages that casual Friday offered.

Difficulties with Going Casual

It’s important to note that going casual isn’t without its drawbacks. For one, it is difficult for companies to try casual dress codes on an experimental basis as it has been shown that employees are far more likely to dislike their formal business attire after getting used to showing up day-after-day in casual clothing. This is true, even if the employees only were given the opportunity of wearing casual clothes for a couple of weeks before returning to formal attire. Further, some commentators have pointed out that casual dress can cause confusion for employees who are unfamiliar with what “casual” actually means. This problem can be avoided, however, by creating a list of items that should never be worn in the office. If you want leggings, tights, gym wear, cut-offs, ripped jeans, super soakers, nerf toys and tie-dye out of your office space, you should be clear that these items will not be tolerated despite your office’s new more casual environment.

A Creative Environment: Is it Time to Buy a Water Slide?

The increased capacity to telecommute has created a situation where the office is no longer the de facto place to most effectively work on projects or assignments. In order for your office to make sense as a place of business, it must create an environment that allows your employees to work together in the most effective way possible. If this were not the case, then it would make more sense to simply save the overhead and jettison your office entirely. With this in mind, it has been indicated time and time again that the best way to spark innovation is to create a work environment where creativity feels like it will not merely be tolerated but rewarded. This atmosphere cannot be created by grey cubicles, beige paint, and small windows. Although you might not have the budget for a water slide, a fresh coat of paint, some plants, or an office dog might prove the difference between a tolerable and intolerable environment.

What about my Clients?

Although it’s likely a good idea to invest in a cool office space or, at the very least, one that is not regularly described by your employees as soul crushing, you still have to create an environment that appeals to your clients. Although we personally can’t help but be impressed by Davison’s pirate ship, we doubt that a law firm would be well-served by operating out of a decommissioned schooner. If your clients expect conservative, then it’s okay to give them the traditional decorum that they want. Just keep in mind that loosening up some aesthetic rules might allow you to occupy a nice middle-ground between dreary and over-the-top whimsical.

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