You've seen a thousand images depicting the home worker all cozy in pajamas working with an open laptop while lounging on an overstuffed sofa. Many sleep-deprived, over-scheduled U.S. workers dream of a lifestyle that includes earning a living while somehow managing to shuffle around their home in an old, comfy robe. The daily donning of poorly-pressed khakis and taming bed head are usually the first hassles telecommuters in transition want to leave behind. But is ditching a work wardrobe really a good idea for telecommuters? New research suggests probably not.

Casual Friday...and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...

When thinking about casual dress in a work environment, we often reflect first on successful tech businesses, the industry most responsible for the late 20th century introduction to "casual Fridays" and finally casual every days. Microsoft, Apple, and Google all have allowed jeans and t-shirts in the workplace for decades now. Most modern businesses apply the customer contact rule: Workers who have face-to-face business dealings with clients are required to adhere to a stricter dress code.

So what about home workers with no client contact? What about all of the medical transcriptionists, customer service reps, online sales staff among a myriad of others who now call a kitchen table or a spare bedroom their office? Surely these workers ought to feel free to take casual to a whole new level – from athletic shoes and loafers to slippers and bare feet!

What Research is Telling Us (and what we probably already guessed)

According to researchers at Northwestern University, the type of clothing we wear (and what we think about that clothing) directly affects how we feel about ourselves when wearing those clothes, our ability to focus on tasks, and even our accuracy in job performance.

White Coat WorkerPsychologists, Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky, conducted three different white coat experiments in an attempt to measure and test data in a field of study they call "enclothed cognition." The ambiguity of a white coat, viewed as either a doctor or lab coat versus a painter's smock, was exploited in their experiments with very interesting results. In fact, their findings suggest a direct correlation between the clothing worn while working and the ability to attend to a task and a reduction in job performance errors.

For those of us working at home, this research suggests that not only are pajamas probably a bad idea, but perhaps even slouchy sweatshirts and flip-flops may be poor choices as well. There is a lot to be said for getting up in the morning and sticking to a dressing ritual not unlike one you would follow if you were heading out the door to a traditional "real world" job.

Follow Your Best Instincts

The rules for what telecommuters really should be wearing during work hours are not, however, carved in stone. This study clearly indicates that what we think about the clothing we are wearing is what really seems to make the difference. Now I'm just going to go out on a limb and suggest that no matter what some of you may say about your ability to successfully get your work done in boxers, I believe you would do much better if you actually dressed for work. I will, though, allow that it is important that you dress in what you feel really reflects your best self in your occupation – minus customer interactions of course.

In other words, if you are working at home in real estate or insurance, what clothes do you associate with a successful agent on a day in the office not working with clients? Nice jeans? Khakis? A button down shirt, polo shirt, or blouse?

Do you work at home taking inbound calls for an airline or hotel organization? How would you dress in a call center if upper management was known to drop in from time to time?

If you are a medical coder or transcriptionist/editor you are what is known in the health industry as an allied health professional. Accuracy and attention to detail are the top job performance indices in this field. What work clothing do you feel will enhance your alertness and precise task execution?

These are the questions that each telecommuter must answer for themselves, and chances are that "pajamas" is not the honest answer. Working at home offers innumerable perks and benefits to those lucky enough to have attained the status, including an escape from rush hour commuting, micromanaging supervisors, and unproductive workplace politics; however, as much as we might wish it, getting out of our sleep clothes and into productive attire is as much a requirement of the home team as it is the cubical-tethered. Just like traditional workers everywhere, we will do our best work if we leave the house-slippers and Snuggies out of our work wardrobes.

Adam, H., & Galinsky, A. (2012). Enclothed Cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(4), 918-925. Retrieved online at

Author's Bio: 

Lisa Perry is a blogger and happy medical transcriptionist, busy wife, mom, and grandmother pursuing goals and dreams including the one about living a balanced life (check!), going back to college (check!), and helping others find a way to work at home and experience their own happy results! Visit her at