Barefoot at the office

Over the last 20 years, in 6 different companies, I’ve been lucky to say, “I’m barefoot at work most of the time”. Indeed, no shoes or socks – just me and my old pair of bare feet. Interestingly enough, most people who know I work barefoot, even accomplished barefooters, tend to think I am a special case. They believe it is nearly impossible for anyone in the western world, working in an office environment, to be able to spend most of their working time in bare feet; let alone interact normally with both co-workers and clients without being properly “attired”. Well, I beg to differ, simply because there is nothing special or unique about me: I’m just a graphic designer, working for a small web development firm, who happens to prefer being barefoot and I’ve been doing it for the last 20 years with virtually no problems.

Granted, I happen to work in a field where dressing casually comes with the territory. Nevertheless, I am yet to encounter an office, even among the most casual, where barefooting is the norm. Albeit, like in any aspect of my barefoot lifestyle, there are times when I do feel it’s more appropriate to wear shoes at work: mostly, as a favour to my boss, when meeting new clients for the first time; in which cases, my footwear of choice is usually a rather old pair of Birkenstock sandals. Nevertheless, I estimate that, on average, I spend about 90% of my time at work with nothing on my feet.

My secret is really no secret.  I truly attribute my ability to integrate my lifestyle into my work, simply because I choose to, and I make no apologies for it. Maybe it’s because I felt the need to be so secretive about my preference for being barefooted earlier in my life that my personal “pendulum” swung the opposite way when I decided to go public about it in my early 20’s and it’s never swung back. Also, I think some perseverance and a little stubbornness has gone a long way in my case.

My experience has been similar in all of my jobs when it comes to getting into going barefoot and getting everyone around me to accept my choice. Gosh, it’s been so long since I have actually started a new job, that I have almost forgotten what it’s like to “come out” as a barefooter at work. However, essentially, the process is rather simple. I usually take a “progressive” approach and it goes something like this:

First and foremost, ALWAYS, and right from the get-go, I show up to work in comfortable footwear, usually an older pair of deck shoes or sneakers in the colder months, and sandals as soon as the temperature goes above the freezing mark.

Week 1: I slip my shoes off under the desk and work barefoot. I make the point of not putting them back on, even if my boss or anyone else (including visiting clients) comes into my working area. Surprisingly, people tend to respect one’s area and they rarely ask questions. The odd time people might make a comment or ask a question, I simply let them know I much prefer being barefoot and leave it at that.

Week 2: Start walking around barefoot at the office: getting printouts from the shared printer, coffee from the kitchen, etc. This definitely triggers some questions or comments. Again, I keep it simple and tell people I’m most comfortable with no shoes on. If there are people who might seem more interested or insistent – especially when they seem me going into the washroom in bare feet, I start telling them about the whole lifestyle thing. It’s funny to see who really gets interested and who just starts thinking I’m a nutcase.

Week 3: Do more barefooting around the office and more talking to people if they ask. By this time, my boss is well aware of my choice and, if I’m still employed at the place it’s because I’m OK in bare feet there.

Week 4: Start arriving barefoot to work and leave a pair of emergency footwear at the office for those pesky meetings with new clients. Keep dealing with comments or questions, and jokes (of course) as they come. Before long, people start expecting me in bare feet and being in shoes is what triggers the questions or jokes.  Ahhh, people can be conditioned to accepting anything if one is patient enough!

So there you have it, as I said, a bit of perseverance and thick skin can go a long way for us barefooters. Among the arguments I present to people, if they get too obsessed about my lack of footwear, is the fact that I work much better when I’m barefoot because I’m not constantly thinking about how uncomfortable and hot my feet are. I also play a little mind game with them by saying they are just jealous because they can’t bring themselves to shedding their own shoes, even though there are dying to do it; or that they won’t be able to get out of their mind how uncomfortable their feet are for the rest of their day. I know it’s mean but hey, they started it!

Here are a couple of great articles that might also help us present good arguments on why bare feet are perfectly fine and, even beneficial, at the office – as well as everywhere else:

Lastly, I would like to take this chance to share a great video by fellow barefooter Ben Donnelly who presents very eloquently his point of view on barefooting at the office.

So, kick off your shoes and get to work!