The US is over a year into forced remote work. While some offices still aim for in-office work, many others have shifted towards a virtual future. Swaths of employees are outright refusing to return to the office until it’s safe, or refusing to return at all.
Why are employees refusing to return to the office? There are many reasons shouted across the internet: more time with family, better overall health, less out-of-home expenses, more flexible hours, customized ergonomic setups, and lower commute times are often listed.
There’s another reason that isn’t often mentioned: reduced dysphoria.
Dysphoria is defined as “a state of feeling very unhappy, uneasy, or dissatisfied”. More commonly, “dysphoria” is used in trans communities to describe gender-specific dysphoria. It can be summarized as a feeling of dissonance or discomfort with your internal and external appearances, or “your ideal body” vs “your current body”.
Here’s an example most people empathize with: Let’s say you haven’t been able to get a haircut for a year. Your hair is longer than you’d like, and you’re uncomfortable with it. It keeps getting in your eyes, it keeps smudging your glasses, it keeps scratching the back of your neck. After a year, you finally get a haircut, and you walk out confident and refreshed. You might even feel more like yourself. Before your haircut, when you were unhappy with your appearance because it made you uncomfortable, that was dysphoria. After your hair cut, that was body euphoria.
How does dysphoria factor into remote work?
Working from home allows dress code flexibility! Workers now have the choice to wear clothes that make them happy. Office environments, with strict dress codes and expectations, are great for some workers that enjoy structure. For everyone else, home environments let them be comfortable.
From a capitalist standpoint, when people are more comfortable, they’re more productive. According to a Stormline survey in 2016, 61% of adults say they’re more productive with relaxed dress codes. Lisa Reynolds explained how casual dress allowed her to be more productive, because she could focus on her family instead of spending time on “professional”.
“For me, as a mom of a five-year-old and a one-year-old, this is at times nothing short of a little blessing. It means instead of ironing clothes every night I can spend time with my family.”
From a personal standpoint, as a nonbinary person, appearance is one of the most important ways I can feel at home in my body. Because I don’t align with a specific gender, getting dressed every day can feel Sisyphean. Sometimes nothing feels right, sometimes everything feels actively awful. Combining this with a lack of understanding about nonbinary people in most workplaces, I’m stuck between a dysphoric rock and professional hard place.
I’m not the only one who’s used remote work as a way to better express myself. River Bailey came out as transgender at work, because remote work gave her the space to explore her gender. While not specifically about remote work, Bax J Ferguson wrote an article about how the pandemic has created the perfect environment for trans exploration. Away from the pressure of the workplace, many people have discovered more about themselves and who they are and how they want to dress.
Overall, remote work has been a catalyst for US workers to learn more about themselves and what makes them happy. Reducing dysphoria is one part of it that isn’t frequently mentioned when listing benefits, but I firmly believe it’s a driving force of why many employees will never return to in-office environments. Comfort and flexibility drive us, and allow us to live better lives. Industries must recognize and respect that.
I must acknowledge my privilege in working in technology, and having the flexibility of working from home. For any worker not able to perform their duties at home, or for any worker forced into offices again, here are some resources for personal exploration and navigating dress codes to reduce dysphoria:
- Sex worker specific: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/how-to-navigate-gender-dysphoria-during-sex
About the Author
Jess Schalz (she/they) is a software engineer, nonprofit organizer, and oddity collector. She has a terrible cat named Sudo, and the two of them live in Minneapolis, MN. She’s never successfully grown a garden, but tries every year nonetheless.