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Has The Pandemic Shelved Formal Office Clothing Forever?

Casual Friday? Or Casual Monday-through-Friday? In Argentina and elsewhere, confinement completely upended work routines — and may lead to the end of "dressing up" to go in the office.

Photo of a man wearing a soccer jersey working on his computer at home

Nary a tie in sight ...

Emilia Vexler

BUENOS AIRES — A minority of workers in Argentina remains "entrenched" at home, avoiding the office to escape catching the coronavirus. The rest have traded their at-home armor of slippers and pyjamas for suits, skirts and heels as they head back to the office for at least three days a week.

The pandemic created a hybrid work model that forced big firms to be flexible with work hours and office presence — and it's impacted dress codes. Even before the pandemic hit, suits and the corporate gear were starting to lose favor, making way for a grey area known as "smart casual."

Early adopters  

Remote work has always been part of company culture at Globant, an international firm for IT solutions. Now, they want to give this form of working "dynamic" permanence. The firm's 20,000 collaborators, or "globers," have returned to the office — flexibly. In all 12 of their Argentina offices, employees come whenever they want and for as long as they want, as long as they meet their goals.

Clarín visited their office in the Retiro district of Buenos Aires in 2020, a week before the country entered into confinement. Even back then, it wasn't a "traditional" workplace. There were no suits or sharp heels, yet workers weren't dressed carelessly. There were jeans and trainers, hair dyed black and blue, and sweaters with smiley faces — this was especially evident in a music room doubling as an informal meeting room. It was a relaxed but productive environment.

Globant's culture has always been "flexible," Axel Abulafia, executive vice-president for Business Development in Argentina, told Clarín. Part of that flexibility, he said, "is the dress code allowing every 'glober' to feel comfortable at work, and helping generate fluidity in teams, spaces and the challenges he or she must face. We believe they must feel at ease with themselves, which includes the way they dress. That's why we don't think a rigid dress code is relevant."

Ties are no longer necessary

One quirky effect of the pandemic on work is that so many new recruits of the past year or so, are not familiar with their co-workers nor their work premises. This was the case for almost 10,000 globers who joined the firm during confinement. That has made the initiation process trickier to manage; new workers must feel informed and accompanied. The firm is achieving this by assigning two partners to help every new "glober" settle into work.

Employee orientation includes constant reminders to use the face mask at all times (except when alone at your desk), and that ties are no longer necessary, as meetings with superiors would only happen on Zoom.

Photo of a woman wearing a flannel shirt working on her computer at home

What happens on Zoom ...

Annie Spratt

Are men's suits dead?

So, is this the end, both for total remote working and for suits at work? Even the most traditional firms are now less rigid with the dress code. The tie was phased out a decade ago as trend in casual Fridays started spreading across the week. At least for men. For women, it is not clear yet if the office can accept them in jeans and sandals rather than heels.

Before the pandemic, Roche Argentina had launched its #VestiteSegúnTuAgenda initiative to promote sartorial freedom among workers. It wanted employees to be "more themselves," says the firm's Persons and Culture chief, Nicolás Todino, while still respecting three principles: "Pick clothes suited to your work agenda, mind your appointments — especially if you'll be meeting with clients — and feel comfortable."

This doesn't mean everyone wearing pyjamas...

The pandemic has done to suits what it did to work hours and event venues. Ayelén Culaciati, head of marketing for the construction firm HIT, says that if the pandemic proved it's healthier to choose where you work, "why wouldn't it be the same with the way we dress in keeping with how we are, the temperature or how we feel that day?" That "doesn't mean everyone wearing pyjamas," she said, but turning that "focus and energy" in a more productive direction.

The pandemic has changed the way millions worked, she said, and this includes firms "going from the control paradigm to trust." She said flexibility, pragmatism and giving your collaborators "centrality," would win time and aid decision-making by the firm's talents. Culaciati says if the firm's culture "helps us feel calm and be the best version of ourselves," workers would be free to "focus on objectives, think differently and innovate from there. Isn't that the best thing?"

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

NYC Postcard: My Arab-American Friends And The Shame Of India's Foreign Policy

The author's native country, India, is both a burgeoning world power and part of the Global South. And yet, its ambitious Prime Minister Narendra Modi hasn't dared to say a single word against Israel's actions in Gaza and the West Bank, even when countries in South America and Africa have severed their diplomatic relationships with Israel.

Photo of pro-Palestinian protesters marching in New York on Oct. 8

Pro-Palestinian protest in New York on Oct. 8

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NEW YORK — The three years since coming to New York as a graduate student have been the most demanding and stimulating period of my academic life. One of the most exciting and joyous accidents of this journey has been my close friendship with Arab students in this city.

I have shared a house with a Syrian and a Palestinian here in Brooklyn, which I have grown to call home. I now make makloubeh with lal mirch and garam masala. Pita bread with zaatar and olive oil has become my go-to midnight snack. I have gotten drunk on arak and unsuccessfully danced dabke at parties. The Delhi boy in me has also now learned to cuss in Arabic.

These friendships have made me realize how similar we are to each other as people. My best friend in the city happens to be a Palestinian Christian whose family was displaced from Jerusalem in 1948 and has lived in exile ever since.

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