Most days when I head into work in the morning, I am in “business” attire. The theory is that this renders me appropriately dressed for any client meeting to which I might be called that day. However, that is not always the case. For instance, some of my clients are tech companies and I look like the Church Lady from SNL when I show up in pinstripes.
So, this whole dress code situation can be a problem whether it is self-imposed or company policy. It gets even more interesting as different industries with different sensibilities on work attire lease office space in the same multi-tenant buildings.
When I lived and worked in Atlanta, there was a local landlord whose lease included rules dictating “professionally appropriate clothing” in the building. The same landlord also insisted (in its leases) that any contractors performing construction in the building had to eat lunch in designated areas, presumably so that no one mistook them for actual tenants of the building. As this was twenty years ago, I am cautiously optimistic that this landlord has evolved in their approach to dress codes.
I do understand that this landlord wanted its office buildings to be attractive to tenants with good credit and strong businesses and, in the late 90s, such tenants were usually professional services companies, financial institutions and Fortune 500 Companies. I also understand that many of these desirable tenants had work dress codes and did not want the professional atmosphere they valued to be diminished by other tenants coming to work in flip flops and sweatpants.
Fast forward twenty years and “unicorn” companies like Uber, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Zappos have no dress codes. In fact, Google’s employees joke that their dress code is “You must wear clothes.” And, these companies are arguably the most desirable tenants because of their rapid and well-funded growth.
So what should a tenant do? How should a multi-tenant building owner approach the issue, especially in cities other than tech-hubs San Francisco and Austin? If you are responsible for managing a class A office building in New York City, how do you attract law firm tenants and tech companies alike? Or do you have to choose between the two? And if you are a traditional law firm tenant or financial services company, do you care what the other tenants’ employees looks like when they come to work? Will it affect your clients’ perceptions of your firm?
I cannot answer these questions as there are as many approaches as there are situations.
The workplace has evolved extensively in the last ten years. Business casual encompasses a broad spectrum from nice jeans to the traditional sport coat and khakis. Consequently, it seems the best approach is to consider the issue (as a tenant or a landlord) before you sign a lease to determine whether it matters to you or affects your business. If so, perhaps the landlord and tenant could agree to a minimal building dress code (no pajamas?) or, conversely, to a lack thereof.
On a recent visit to Denver, I was impressed with how easily a white shoe law firm coexisted next to a transplanted San Francisco tech company. The law firm appeared to have embraced a very comfortable but classy version of business casual while the tech company had embraced a very upscale version of tech casual. Perhaps over time, the stark differences between dress codes will dissipate. Until then, give the issue some consideration when choosing your company’s next offices.