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Ties and high heels out as hybrid office return sparks casual comfy boom

Source: Reuters

MADRID, Oct 6 (Reuters) – Spanish fashionista Blanca Lorca once swore by high heels and fitted clothes for the office, but the COVID-19 lockdown has transformed her style sense and shopping habits.

After months working from her sleek Madrid flat, the 31-year-old pharmaceutical company employee is now dressing in neutral tones and slack fits for her three days a week in the office as a partial return gears up around the world.

Eighteen months in loungewear while remote working during the pandemic have left professionals all over Europe hankering for fresh wardrobes as they embrace hybrid working.

It is a boon for hard-hit retailers.

The focus on comfort may have banished ties, dress shoes and high heels, but it has spurred a new desire for versatile clothing: smart enough for the office, but relaxed enough for kitchen table teleconferences.

Personal apparel sales – including clothing, shoes and cosmetics – actually grew 8.5% in the 12 months leading to August, as increasing mobility and back-to-office mandates boosted shopping, according to official data.

In Britain, over a quarter of people surveyed by workplace consultancy Office Group said they would continue dressing less formally even when back in the office, while almost a third plan to experiment with different styles, according to a Bank of America note.

“After being at home for so long, you prefer comfort, but at the same time you want to be stylish enough to be able to go out,” Lorca said, wearing a light shirt and loose-cut trousers as she perused the racks in Zubi, a small boutique in Madrid.

“I look for clothes that will last over time, won’t go out of fashion (and) I can use for everything.”

PYJAMAS AND ZOOM

Big brands are paying attention.

Retailers such as Zara (ITX.MC), Mango and H&M (HMb.ST) are highlighting “smart casual” trousers, shirts and dresses on their websites, alongside the lounge- and sportswear which lockdowns made ubiquitous.

Many of the leading fashion brands have launched new collections for this unique back-to-work season, as easing restrictions and vaccination campaigns drive mobility.

Department store El Corte Ingles, a household name in Spain, said demand for comfortable officewear surged over the summer, accelerating in September as clients returned to offices and business meetings.

Shops successfully achieving pre-pandemic sales levels the fastest are those selling casual or hybrid workwear, according to analysts and fashion retail sources in London and Madrid, where Europe’s high vaccination rates have helped life recover.

Women whose employers mandated partial returns have kept the blouse they would sometimes have worn above pyjama bottoms for Zoom calls, but now pair it with easy trousers and flat shoes, Zubi owner Elena Zubizarreta told Reuters.

Over 78% of Spaniards are fully vaccinated and around 80% of all workers have returned at least part-time, according to a survey by CCOO, the country’s largest trade union.

Few, however, have missed the strictures of formal dressing.

Alberto Gavilan, talent director at staffing agency Addeco, said formal attire was now the exception. “Most people will prefer the business casual code, which has proved so effective and comfortable in recent months,” he said.

‘FASHION HAS CHANGED’

Over half of Spaniards who dressed formally for work pre-pandemic were enthusiastic about buying new clothes for an office return, a June survey by research company Dynata showed – the highest rate among 11 countries surveyed.

The British and Japanese were the least excited, at 19% and 21% each.

Spanish price comparison website Idealo.es said online searches for sport tracksuits dropped 96% from January to August as the vaccination rate increased.

“Fashion has changed and after almost two years away from the workplace you feel like having new things to go back,” said communications specialist Valme Pardo, laying boldly-printed dresses, ample tailored trousers and stretchy blazers on her bed at her Madrid home.

Men also crave comfort.

Lucia Danero, a shopping adviser at El Corte Ingles in Madrid, has noticed a stream of customers looking for a refresh: but the men never ask to try on ties anymore.

“Before, it was unthinkable for a man to go to the office with a sweatshirt … and now we’re seeing it,” she said, strolling through the aisles and pointing out the jeans businessmen now sought.

‘RELAXED CITY’

The trend is global.

International brands Vince,  Me+Em,  Uniqlo  and  The White Company, as well as U.S. and UK retailers such as  Nordstrom  and  John Lewis, are dedicating “site space to modern workwear staples, with a strong emphasis… on seasonless pieces to ensure versatility and longevity,” trend intelligence agency Stylus said in a recent report.

In fact, despite workplace mobility still sagging 30% below pre-pandemic rates, apparel sales are on average 5% higher in major Western markets, Jefferies bank said in a note to clients in September.

Both physical and online sales at fashion behemoth Inditex were even 9% higher in August and the first week of September than pre-pandemic.

The autumn/winter season has had a strong start, executive chairman of Inditex, Pablo Isla, told a conference, before announcing the next Massimo Dutti collection would be called “Relaxed City”.

Yet even as demand recovers, retailers are grappling with disruptions to global supply chains: sales at H&M grew less than expected in the third quarter, before being hampered in September by supply restrictions.

“There’s an urge to get ‘dressed up’ after spending so much time at home… but we’ve gotten used to being comfortable and we want… garments such as unlined blazers and jackets, wider trousers and intricate knitwear,” said Ann-Sofie Johansson, Creative Advisor at H&M.

Backstage at Madrid fashion week, designers bet on new beginnings – which seemed to include bright, non-restrictive dresses and colourful jumpers.

“Heels have been left for very specific moments … But day-to-day people have gotten rid of them, to be much more comfortable,” said Spanish designer Maite Casademunt, whose “Comfy Wild” collection was dominated by dresses, smart loungewear and sports shoes.

Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette and Corina Pons in Madrid; Additional reporting by Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm, Joyce Philippe and Arriana Mclymore in New York and Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Business

Industry Field Service Is Reshaping How The Home Market Will Be Managed

Mark Wilding is Vice President Global Customer Transformation at ServiceMax.

“Working from home” never used to be an option for repair technicians, but even they have adapted. What’s perhaps more interesting is that the changes taking place in the field service industry today are already shaping how products are serviced in our home in future.

While the pandemic accelerated technology adoption, it also created another animal – rising customer expectation. As so many products and services went virtual, it fuelled an instant gratification gene in people, where the notion of waiting for anything to be fixed suddenly became unacceptable. Most organizations were faced with two choices – shrug (virtually of course) and carry on as normal or try and meet those expectations using new technologies to enable touchless and self-services.

Undoubtedly this has changed a few things. It’s certainly changed attitudes to the value of field service and the on-going challenges it faces. As McKinsey wrote in an article recently, “services matter in every industry, both as a direct source of value and as an enabler of value creation.” The field service role in customer experience and loyalty that has become more prominent.

Virtual first, physical second rapidly became the default service approach for many organizations at the industry level – a policy that remains in place for most. Thanks to technology, remote eyes on the asset enable arm’s length triage so if an engineer is required, they arrive on site with insight and intelligence about the issue. In this way, remote service has significantly enhanced on-site service, rather than being a poor virtual substitute.

Forefront of Change

And it’s trickling down into consumer life. The pandemic accelerated it, but it’s been coming for some time. Field service teams have been at the forefront of changing attitudes, with engineers tasked with customer service roles and upselling, as well, of course, fixing faulty parts and machines. With more homes and offices connected through increasingly reliable broadband, and more wide spread interconnectivity and smart automation all around us,  we have seen the rise in IoT devices and in turn, the rise in remote servicing of these products – interestingly, global spending on IoT products is forecast to reach $1.1 trillion in 2023. The challenge now for field service teams, is how to meet the rising expectations of customers in an increasingly touchless world?

As a recent World Economic Report claims, homes are indeed getting smarter – over 130 million households are now home to at least one smart speaker while 77 million have a digital security camera – and with that smartness comes both the need and ability to enable remote servicing. For the manufacturers this also means change at their end as well. Service considerations must be baked into products at the design level. Service cannot be an afterthought.

What this means for field service teams is a rapid shift in how the home market is managed. It’s part of a wider trend, kickstarted during the pandemic, of an end-to-end contactless experience for consumers. Remote service, either augmented or via video calls or even self-service tools will continue to grow in importance but also in capability. The technology is improving rapidly, to enable automated, remote diagnostics, for example. What this means is that more than ever before, field service engineers will have up-to-date data on devices and products in our homes, including breakdowns, required parts and inventory availability – in short, complete oversight of product status and the needs of the customer.

We’ve already seen this in industry. The remote-first acceleration of field service in B2B and industrial services holds the blueprint for how domestic and B2C services are delivered in the home in the next few years. It’s a natural trickle-down effect. Also, given this increasing touchless nature of business relationships with customers, field service teams may be the only person from the company that customers actually meet in person. More than ever before, field engineers will be the public face of brands.

As more items in the home become more connected, we’ll see more proactive interaction from OEMs and more IoT interaction with the user to effectively address technical issues. Consumers will become the first line of service thanks to technology. Soon, almost all products will be designed for service. A manufacturer can help you diagnose the problem remotely, then send you the required part you that plug in while set up is done in the background. This minimizes need for service visits which are most of cost.

This of course impacts required skills and training, as well information sharing and connectivity. Communication will be key, not just to get products repaired but to do it in a way that looks after the customer journey. Professional field service best practice is now spilling into domestic life, and this will continue over the next five years. Field service teams must adapt and use the tools at their disposal to ensure good customer experience.

The advances we’re seeing in field service management today are shaping the future of service across multiple industries and are paving the way for consumer service in our homes. Far-greater network availability and capability will drive broad shifts in the business landscape, from the digitization of manufacturing through wireless control of mobile tools, machines and appliances.

Until then, as field service teams move forward into a continuously remote-first world of high consumer expectations, understanding what does and doesn’t work in the eye of those consumers will become increasingly key to successful experiences.

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Lifestyle

Keeping pets protected during heatwaves this summer

We’ve been lucky to have been hit with some great weather this summer, however, some days have been exceptionally hot and causing us discomfort to the point where we don’t want to leave the house! Our pets can also struggle in this heat and if not looked after correctly, can lead to life threatening issues for them. 

Dr. Sarah Machell, Medical Director for Vetster, has shared her top five top tips to ensure that our pets can enjoy the summer days as much as we can.

Vetster, is a digital platform that connects licensed vets with pet owners virtually, with 24/7 online appointments, launches in the UK this summer.

1.  Provide adequate rest, shade, and ventilation

Coping with high temperatures and humidity is tough enough on its own, but it’s even more difficult for pets who are exercising in direct sunlight and don’t have adequate ventilation. Limit outdoor activities to early mornings and late evenings when it’s cooler. When walking your pet, choose shady routes off the pavement.  Ensure outdoor pets have shady, ventilated places to escape the heat.  Keep in mind that pets also rely on evaporation for cooling, regardless of if they sweat like horses or pant like dogs, and high humidity decreases the effect of evaporation. This means your pet needs you to keep an eye on the heat index for them as well as for you.  Be sure your pets have easy access to a steady supply of clean water. Pets are naturally wired to stay hydrated as long as they are healthy and avoid heavy exercise in the heat, so there’s no need to try to encourage your pet to drink more.  Just make sure the water supply is in easy reach and doesn’t run dry. 

 2. Be wary of paws on the hot pavement! 

When the weather gets extremely hot, so does the pavement—asphalt, in particular. If you’re taking your dog out for a walk, try to remember that they don’t have shoes to protect against the heat. Even though paw pads are extremely tough, hot surfaces can burn them. Consider using padded booties for their paws to create a barrier between paw pads and the hot concrete.  Better yet, try to steer clear of the streets and walk on the cool grass instead. If there’s an opportunity to wade through some clean water or catch the spray from a sprinkler, that’s even better. Remember that pavement retains heat and you still need to be aware of the risks when you go for walks in the evening.

3. Look out for signs of heatstroke 

Heatstroke is a very serious condition and one to look out for in your pets. As a pet parent, it’s important to be aware of your pet’s fitness level and avoid overexertion when the weather’s too hot or humid. Less athletic dogs, dogs with underlying illnesses, and brachycephalic breeds are at higher risk for developing heatstroke, so keep an extra close eye on them. Heatstroke is life-threatening, but it can be avoided if you take action to cool your pet when they show early signs of heat stress. If your dog doesn’t want to keep walking, lies down in the shade, or digs up cool dirt to lie in, those are clues they’re getting too hot.  Excessive panting that doesn’t improve after a short rest is another indicator. Get out of the heat and offer water to keep the threat of heatstroke from escalating.  Splash down hot ears, paws, and bellies with water to achieve more rapid cooling.

4 Never leave your pet unattended in a hot vehicle 

Heatstroke can happen in the blink of an eye—it cannot be stressed enough that you should never, ever leave your pet unattended in a vehicle. This is true even if you leave the windows down for fresh air or if you think you’ll only be gone for a few minutes. Studies show that even if the outdoor temperature is 72℉ (22°C), a car can rise up to 117℉ (47°C) in only an hour. Imagine how quickly a car can become dangerously hot when outdoor temperatures are a balmy 86℉ (30°C). Even if you’re leaving your car unattended for a minute or think that leaving a window open will help – the life-or-death gamble you’re taking isn’t worth it.

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Business

5 Reasons To Consider Going Into ‘Unretirement’

Mike Reid, Founder and Chairman of Goldster

As Cameron Diaz turns 50 this August, the retired Hollywood star is set to make a comeback in the new Netflix comedy, ‘Back in Action’, alongside co-star Jamie Foxx. Diaz has been out of the spotlight for eight years, so why did she come out of retirement and jump back into acting?
For us non-A list celebrities, retirement is typically seen as a midday game of golf, cream tea, and long days in the garden. But what if the idea of ‘taking it easy’ isn’t for you? You’re certainly not alone, and it might be time to consider instead going into ‘unretirement’. Mike Reid, Founder and Chairman of Goldster, a digital platform created to inspire over 50s to lead a more active and fulfilling life, shares five reasons why many retirees are rejecting the idea of sitting back, and instead returning to work or exploring new interests:

  1. Itchy Feet
    Currently, the UK age for retirement is 66, while life expectancy is 79 for men and 83 for women. This means the average British female spends 17 years in retirement – that’s over 6,200 days – which is a long time considering it’s not unusual to start feeling a bit twitchy during a two-week holiday at the beach!
    Instead of spending some of the greatest years of your life twiddling your thumbs while the years slip by, why not get yourself back out there to keep your mind, body and soul occupied – all the while making extra friends, picking up additional skills and earning some extra cash along the way.
  2. Healthy mind
    The Goldster team has discovered that maintaining a strong cognitive state can support healthy ageing, and that ‘going to work’ can be hugely beneficial. It’s a myth that giving up and retiring at 66 is the best move for everyone. In fact, experts often advise doing the opposite and embracing new roles and experiences at this age. Even if you don’t want to return to the office, taking classes, developing new hobbies and interests, and challenging yourself every day can make you feel good, especially when the brain gets to enjoy a rigorous workout.
    You can strengthen your mind with something as simple as picking out a new book, or really stretch your limits by taking up art, creative writing or even learning a new language. Whatever you decide to pursue, make sure it’s something you enjoy and not something you’ll start to see as a chore. Really not connecting with those French lessons? There’s no shame in saying “au revoir” and trying something else out instead.
  3. Emotional Wellbeing
    We believe there are multiple reasons why an increasing number of people are deciding to clock back on and clock-off from ‘taking it easy.’ Socialising, interacting and carrying out tasks all help boost self-confidence. In the UK, 1.4 million people over the age of 65 are often lonely, according to Age UK. Did you know that loneliness is now widely recognised as a major problem? Going back to work can help with loneliness and avoiding long-term depression.
    Working also helps maintain a routine. It’s a well-known fact that we’re creatures of habit and routines deliver a structure, promoting health and wellness. Stress management, good health, and better sleep are all benefitted by a routine: taking a job or classes with regular schedules, or even creating your own activity calendar and trying your best to stick to it, can be hugely beneficial.
  4. Physical Benefits
    Unretiring helps you explore interests that you might feel had already passed you by, and perhaps you’d even like to try something more physical than what you’re used to. There are many jobs and activities that get you up and about, and even something so simple as spending more time on your feet instead of sitting down can be greatly beneficial to your health.
    While you’re in this physical mood, you could even pick out a new sport or hobby too. Maybe you’ve always wanted to give yoga a try, or you used to dance the night away but haven’t done so for a while. Your 50s are the time for you to do what you love. Of course, it doesn’t have to be anything too strenuous: something low-impact like thai chi or a gentle stroll might be more your thing.
  5. Income boost
    According to Government statistics, one-third of all workers in the UK are over the age of 50, and a large study undertaken in 2017 found that a quarter of retirees changed their minds and headed back to work, usually within five years of having clocked-off.
    Income was found to a be major motivation – 50% who chose to unretire were still paying off their mortgages. With all the benefits to your mental and physical health that getting back to work brings, earning some extra money is also a huge and welcome advantage. Why stay at home when you could be earning a few bob and saving enough to take that extra special holiday you’ve been thinking about or buying something nice for your loved ones?

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