1 Introduction

Covid19 has impacted our lives drastically, challenging daily routines. Lockdowns and social distancing measures imposed by governments across the globe affected both social and work life, causing unprecedent disruptions to labour markets. Individuals were forced to work from home facing many challenges, including psychological and technological issues [1]. Before the pandemic, telework was growing slowly and it involved mainly workers in high skilled knowledge professions. The pandemic caused a rapid and major increase in telework and for many workers it was a new experience often conducted under challenging circumstances, such as the lack of suitable workspaces, inappropriate ICT tools and no access to childcare, raising an interesting debate on teleworking and its impact on individuals’ well-being.

The fashion industry has been greatly affected by the severe restrictions which were implemented by governments to contain the pandemic, such as the closure of stores, and changing consumer behaviour due to no or limited occasions to leave the house. By having to spend more time at home, individuals started changing the way in which they presented themselves, swapping their formal wear for casual clothes also for work activities.

Working from home entails also organizing professional meetings through videoconferencing systems, hence individuals were forced to familiarize themselves with videoconferencing, which involves consideration of personal appearance and the environment from which the video meeting is conducted [2]. Through technologies such as augmented reality, videoconferencing platforms are creating a new physical-virtual space, which offers the instruments to extensively personalise the video-call settings, from the background to the personal appearance of the individual, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy [3]. Arguably, as the time on camera rises due to videoconferencing practices, the digital self is becoming increasingly important [4]. Yet, few studies such as that by Zandan and Lynch [2] analyse the role of fashion in teleworking and, to the best of our knowledge, a conversation on such topic is still lacking in the academic literature. Due to the importance of social norms that guide consumers’ behaviour and the way in which they present themselves [5], studying teleworking practices and fashion is expected to provide novel insights. Hence, this paper conducts an explorative study on the practices of individuals when it comes to fashion-related dimensions of professional videoconferences during the Covid19 pandemic, encompassing all dimensions that can be seen through a camera: make-up, hairstyle, clothes, accessories, and home-décor [6]. Additionally, it analyses the way in which fashion could be afforded by videoconferencing platforms through digital filters that can help individuals appear as if they were in the office, hence providing insights into the level of interest in digital filters for professional settings. Finally, it hypothesises a model, which could be tested in future studies, to explain individuals’ intention to adopt digital fashion for online meetings.

2 Literature Review

The idea that work could be conducted away from the traditional office space emerged in the 1950s [7]. ICTs have had a central role in the evolution of working from home, linked to the introduction of personal computers in the 1980s, laptops and mobile phones in the 1990s, and subsequently to their wider access [8]. Telework is defined as “the use of ICT to enable daily work activities to be performed while being away from the office” [9 p. 1]. Access to information technology and its advancement enabled to remove the strict connection between work tasks and location, offering flexibility but also creating potential conflicts between work and home/family roles [10]. A stream of research focuses on identifying the motivations and advantages of working from home. At the individual level, benefits include higher productivity, higher work-life balance, and reduced commuting time. At an organizational level, advantages include overhead savings, higher employee productivity, lower turnover and absenteeism. However, teleworking entails also challenges and drawbacks. For employees, it might cause social isolation, lower visibility, reduced career chances, and difficulties in managing home space and resources. The transition between work and home roles can be complex and cause fatigue derived from unusual working hours [10, 11]. For organizations, it could result in lower control over employees and their activities, loss of team-work benefits, and difficulty in motivating workers [7, 9, 10]. Literature on teleworking before Covid19 focuses on workers who voluntarily work from home for a percentage of their working hours, whereas with the pandemic workers were forced to work from home independently of their willingness. Moreover, workers had to work from home every day [1]. Ipsen et al. [12], who studied the impact of working from home during the Covid19 pandemic, found that the main advantages other than controlling the spread of the virus were reduced commuting time and flexibility. Whereas the main challenges were missing colleagues and inadequate conditions of the home office. Interestingly, these factors reflect the advantages and disadvantages of pre-Covid19 literature. Instead, reduced freedom of leaving the house highlights the forced home working condition during the pandemic. Additionally, another challenge hastened by Covid19 is the “always on culture” and the struggle to define boundaries between home and work activities as workers may be torn between the desire for flexibility and the need for structure. To overcome this struggle, individuals try to identify cues that enable them to transition between different roles, such as logging out of work equipment. Nonetheless, the ubiquity of ICTs challenges workers’ ability to switch off [10]. Undoubtedly, the pandemic has stimulated a change in consumer behaviour and the way in which they conduct work related activities. Yet, limited research has addressed the behavioural effects of teleworking. As stated by Waizenegger et al. [1 p. 429], it is important to research how individuals are experiencing working from home for “business as usual” through technology in order to identify how new digital practices can be developed in novel circumstances. To address such limitation, this study focuses on technological affordances, “the attribute of an object that permits or enables potential behaviours of animals or human beings” [13 p. 912]. The main difference between working from an office and teleworking is the environment from which the worker conducts activities. During the pandemic many workers experienced a withdrawal of typical environmental affordances as in presence meetings were replaced by online meetings afforded by videoconferencing platforms, which allow numerous possibilities to personalise both the setting of the videoconference and the personal look. The office environment can be replaced by digital filters which reproduce an office space or any other background [8]. Moreover, it is possible to modify the personal appearance through augmented/virtual reality technologies that enable to touch up our looks digitally. For example, make-up brands are developing filters that help us be camera-ready in just a few clicks by applying digital make-up [14]. Limited research addresses the ways in which videoconferencing practices are linked with fashion dimensions. A survey conducted by Zandan & Lynch [2] addresses questions related to videoconferences preferences and shows that, in terms of style, individuals’ most appreciated choice is business casual and neutral colours in order to appear as an “expert”, “authentic”, and “trustworthy” worker.

Therefore, this study aims to advance the literature on teleworking by analysing how videoconferencing practices might be afforded by digital filters. In specific, it aims to answer the following questions: how do people, who work from home, feel about turning on their camera? What are their practices when it comes to make-up, hair-style, jewellery, clothing, and home décor? Is there an interest for digital filters that might help individuals appear more similar to the way they look while in the physical office?

3 Methodology

An online Qualtrics survey was distributed through snowball sampling between February 23, 2021, and April 12, 2021.

The first section included demographic questions, such as age and gender. Then workers were asked work related questions, including job sector, seniority level, working hours, and the country in which their office/university is based.

The second section addressed questions on videoconferencing frequencies before and during the pandemic. Moreover, it collected information regarding the platforms and devices adopted for online meetings, including the use of lighting and filters. The subsequent section queried questions related to respondents’ personal appearance during videoconferences. Participants were asked questions on their behaviour in terms of wearing and styling clothes, make-up, accessories, and hairstyle for meetings with the camera on. The final section measured whether and to what extent there is an interest in fashion-related filters for videoconferences, in terms of attractiveness and desirability measured with a five-point Likert scale adapted from Freling et al. [15] and the intention to use such filters measured on a five-point Likert scale adapted from Gordon and Bruner [16]. Moreover, a five-point Likert scale measured self-efficacy of using digital elements [16]. The survey concluded by asking the expected frequency of videoconferences post-pandemic and an open question to collect any additional thoughts regarding the use of such digital elements.

4 Results

Results are presented in the following themes: demographics, videoconferencing from home practices, camera behaviour and personal appearance during online meetings, interest in digital elements, and self-efficacy.

4.1 Demographics: Workers

A total of 365 surveys were collected from individuals with teleworking experience. Of these, 297 were completed. The surveys that were partially completed (n = 68) were considered for analysis only if at least 40% of the survey was answered (n = 11). Hence, 308 surveys were considered relevant for this study. Among the respondents, 58% are females, 41% are males, and 1% preferred not to answer. Their age ranges from 21 to 80 years old. Most respondents work in the education sector (41%), followed by the media, culture, and graphic sector (16%), the commerce (10%) and the financial/professional services sector (10%). Half of respondents when teleworking from home are based in Switzerland, followed by Italy (28%), UK (6%) and US (3%). For 15% of the participants their office is based in a different country from where they telework. Arguably, this is justified by the fact that 78% of respondents who telework from Italy have an office based in Switzerland. Moreover, 7% of respondents only work from home and do not have an office. Most participants (78%) work full time.

4.2 Videoconferencing from Home Practices

Results show an increase in the number of videoconferences conducted from 2019 to 2020. In 2019 over 40% of workers almost never conducted videoconferences from home. Whereas, in 2020 respondents engaged in videoconferences from home several times a day (30%) or almost every day (34%). Most respondents worked from either a home office or the living room. Workers use more than one platform for online meetings, including Zoom (77%) and MS Teams (75%), followed by Skype (32%) and Google Meet (32%). Most individuals usually conduct videoconferences on PC/laptops (98%), phones (24%) and tablets (10%). Moreover, when preparing for videoconferences a large portion of workers (63%) do not use any features provided by the platforms. However, 37% of workers set, according to their preferences, at least one feature among filters, lighting, camera, and microphone settings.

4.3 Camera Behaviour During Videoconferences

This section presents the results regarding camera behaviour.

When conducting online meetings from home 35% of males and 24% of females always keep the camera on. It emerges (Graph 1) that workers’ decision to turn on the camera highly depends – for both female and male respondents – on internet connection, people in the background, and background objects. For females, the decision also highly depends on the way in which they are dressed, their hairstyle, and make-up. For the workers who do not always keep the camera on, being the presenter or participating in formal meetings are important motivations to keep it on. Interestingly, feeling that they look appropriate is more important for females than for males. Whereas, internet connection issues, performing other activities, and a background that is not appropriate hold workers from turning the camera on. Moreover, the fact that it reduces the time spent to get ready is also a relevant motivation for females. Other motivations for not turning the camera on include technical motivations, the type and length of the meeting, a high number of participants in the meeting, and privacy concerns such as other people in the room.

Graph 1.
figure 1

Camera behaviour

4.4 Personal Appearance During Videoconferences from Home

This section analyses workers’ personal appearance when conducting videoconferences with the camera on from home. Graph 2 shows that workers’ personal look is different when doing videoconferences from home. Workers state that they dress more casually. Not surprisingly, they focus mainly on the top which is seen on camera, for example by wearing a blouse or shirt, casual bottoms, and sporty or no shoes. In terms of make-up, they wear lighter or no make-up at all. Moreover, respondents put less effort in styling their hair. They style it more casually and wear it more natural, for example in a ponytail or in a bun. Furthermore, males do not shave as often.

Graph 2.
figure 2

Workers’ personal appearance during videoconferences

4.5 Interest in Digital Elements and Prediction of Use

After the pandemic, workers expect that the frequency of videoconferences will not go back to what it was before the pandemic. Over 40% of respondents expect to conduct at least a videoconference per week, hence the desirability and the prediction to use digital elements/filters are analysed.

Digital home décor and digital clothes are the most desirable elements for both female and male workers. Females also find digital make-up desirable. Interestingly, a desirability for the hair and beard element is identified for both males and females (Graph 3). These results are in line with their prediction to use the elements, as workers are extremely or somewhat likely to use digital home décor and clothes for videoconferencing (Graph 4).

Graph 3.
figure 3

Digital elements: desirability

Graph 4.
figure 4

Digital elements: prediction of use

4.6 Self-efficacy

This final section presents the results regarding self-efficacy. 76% of workers strongly or somewhat agree that they feel competent to select the best personal look and 73% of individuals strongly or somewhat agree that they have relevant knowledge and expertise to make sound evaluations in terms of their personal look. Graph 5 shows that over 20% of workers believe that access to digital filters for videoconferences would help them feel more acceptable and comfortable, increase their productivity, improve the way they are perceived, and help them make a good impression on other people.

Graph 5.
figure 5


5 Discussion

The vision that all phone calls would one day become video calls dates back to a demonstration by AT&T’s Picturephone at the New York World’s Fair in 1964. Despite the various attempts throughout the years, video calls struggled to attract interest as in business settings individuals believed that video added limited value. The rise of the internet and the access to devices with a camera made video calls more popular [17]. The Covid19 pandemic has drawn attention to research on telework and the role of ICTs, which are becoming the protagonists of individuals’ everyday life [18].

This study provides significant contributions by analysing individuals’ videoconferences practices in professional settings and their interplay with digital fashion elements, including clothes, make-up, accessories, hair/beard, and home décor.

Not surprisingly, the number of videoconferences increased drastically from 2019 to 2020 and expected telework frequency shows that work will not go back to what it was previous to the pandemic, highlighting the importance of the topic.

This research provides a first understanding regarding individuals’ decision to either keep the camera off or turning it on during online meetings. The costs involved in turning the camera are taken into consideration, such as their appearance, their background, their internet connection, the type of meeting and their role in it, company regulations, and the behaviour of other individuals. The cost of such factors is balanced with social norms, which might motivate individuals invest resources in improving their appearance and background in order to appear on camera. Moreover, technical affordances such as filters might reduce the cost of turning on the camera by improving the appearance (Graph 6).

Graph 6.
figure 6

Dimensions being balanced in individual decisions to turn on/off the camera for online meetings

Digital filters are now part of beauty routines and they are utilized for self-expression just like make-up. Social media channels and teleworking tools have filters that give the illusion of wearing make-up through augmented reality. The interest in digital filters for online meetings is not surprising as when conducting videoconferences an individual does not only look at other people who are in the meeting, as it happens in face-to-face meetings, but she/he also looks at herself/himself on the screen. During online meetings, the individual is constantly presented with her/his own image, hence it could be that videoconferencing creates self-consciousness, justifying the interest in digital filters for professional settings [4].

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital tools for remote working and interactions as they can be a solution not only to overcome short-term challenges brought by the pandemic but also for medium-long-term solutions. The implementation of digital tools for B2B interactions is growing, evolving, and affecting many aspects of our daily lives, including the way we work, prepare, and present ourselves.

Although there is limited literature on fashion and telework, fashion afforded by technological advances is becoming increasingly relevant. As stated by Hacker et al. [8] web-conferencing systems should have features that enable individuals to make a good impression and feel more comfortable during online meetings. As shown by this study, there is an interest in digital fashion elements for work related videoconferencing practices. Moreover, some respondents believe that digital elements such as make-up, hairstyle, clothes, accessories, and home-décor could help them make a good impression and feel more comfortable during videoconferences. Digital fashion is still in its infancy, yet it is developing fast as firms are driven by the expected opportunities brought by the metaverse, a “new world” which is expected to offer immersive experiences in virtual environments. Such possibilities extend beyond the opportunity to entertain individuals through games and are expected to have a major impact on everyday activities, such as working, studying, shopping, and socialising. Teleworking platforms are embracing the metaverse opportunity by developing immersive workspaces and avatars that resemble individuals’ looks rather than cartoonish representations [21]. In this context, digital garments and make-up that can be virtually purchased in the form of non-fungible tokens and applied by individuals to their avatar represent an opportunity for fashion brands. The metaverse provides individuals countless possibilities to personalise their appearance by creating a fully digital version of themselves. The typical process of personalisation which involves tailoring an object to meet an individual’s preferences and needs [22] becomes a process in which individuals themselves alter their image to meet specific preferences and needs. Hence, personalisation is not constrained to the process of applying a digital filter to our face for a videoconference; it extends to the development of digital versions of ourselves, reflecting the way in which we wish to appear in front of different audiences. Despite its potential, there are still many open questions regarding the use of digital fashion and its effects on consumer behaviour [22]. From the results of this study, it could be possible to argue that individuals’ decision to appear on camera or not could impact the adoption of digital fashion elements. For example, if for a worker the cost of not appearing is high due to company regulations, she / he might take the decision to turn on the camera despite the cost of the activities to appear in the “right” way. This, in turn, could also impact the decision to adopt or not digital fashion to appear online (Graph 7).

Graph 7.
figure 7

Individuals’ decision process to adopt digital fashion for online meetings

To conclude, a crucial theme that emerged from this study is that of ethical concerns and the possible negative effects of digital filters on individuals’ self-esteem. The alteration of physical appearance is a critical ethical concern that the digital fashion industry must consider as individuals might not only feel pressured by ideals portrayed online but also worry about their own image not looking like the digitally self-created one. Indeed, digital filters enables everyone to personalise and alter their look as they wish and blur the boundaries between what is “real” and “fake” [14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23].

6 Conclusion, Limitations and Future Research

Although teleworking is not a new phenomenon, the Covid19 pandemic enforced it for many workers, creating an interesting discussion in the field of teleworking. Yet, limited research focuses on the role of fashion in teleworking. This study addresses the gap through an explorative research and by opening a compelling conversation on digital fashion and teleworking. This study has some limitations that could be addressed by future research. Firstly, the countries and the fields of work of the respondents are not equally distributed. Further studies could consider these factors and other cultural dimensions. Moreover, this study highlights compelling findings that could be further explored such as the relationships between age, status, and videoconferencing behaviour. Also, the relationship between individuals’ appearance, the decision to turn on the camera during online meetings, and individuals’ motivations for (not) adopting digital fashion elements is worthy of deeper investigation. Finally, it will be of utmost importance to continue studying how technological advances in virtual environments will affect individuals’ telework experience.