Isolation 2020: a new productivity frontier
by AKO • Apr 16, 2020 | STYLE

The COVID-19 pandemic began with a few dozen instances halfway across the globe. Still, it slowly permeated into a global crisis fueled by the fear of how easily contagious and deadly the foreign virus has proven itself to be. With local and national authorities enforcing a city to statewide lockdowns with no foreseeable end due to increased positive cases and the inability of most health facilities to manage the ongoing situation, leading to accelerated global tragedies, and as it sadly relates, in fashion capitals of the world. Based on recent researches and findings, the unemployment rate in the United States alone as of early April is up to 13%, with 17 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits. As several industries lay off workers and pause operations in these unforeseen times, it question of how affected the fashion industry and how big of an impact this has and will prove to be in the future has never been more declared than now. From runway show cancellations to global designer stores and production lines shut down, the pandemic has caused a seismic disruption for those within the industry. Every person once essential to the functions of the industry – designers, art directors, and buyers alike – have been thrown into a sudden limbo; the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic has put the industry on an unplanned pause. However, while professional 9-5 workers are facing the sudden whiplash of a complete disruption of daily routine due to some city-imposed lockdowns, creatives, freelancers, and those considered to be “digital nomads” are finding that even the social isolation reality is as complicated when it isn’t self-imposed.

Image source: Alexander McQueen. © photo: Andrea Adriani /

The spring season as one of the most fundamental season for the fashion industry has deemed all operational and creative labor of the SS20 and the collections after useless and inessential, as the growth of the pandemic has caused brands, designers, and couture houses to close off their doors to customers, issuing various policies in the meantime. Many companies and fashion houses have announced within the last month a temporary halt in their production in facilities worldwide; others like Gap Inc., Levi’s, and HanesBrands have had to make the difficult choice of furloughing employees across the board. The worst-case scenario that major retail chains, like H&M, Group, Inditex Group, and Nike, Inc, etc., have had to consider is the thousands of layoffs and shut down their stores across the globe. And while the United States has still not issued an executive national stay-at-home order, with the number of infected cases reaching over 200,000 according to the CDC, many corporations and businesses have taken the corporate responsibility to enforce work from home policies on their employees. Those who work in fashion and other creative industries have, for decades, had the potential to work effectively under remote conditions, and not lost are the professionals with operational functions reliant on person-to-person contact to execute jobs and other responsibilities. With heavy reliance on technology, the newly implemented work from home policies and structures by most brands has become all the more essential to facilitate remote contact and attempt to continue business operations. Vogue branches in areas with governments enforced lockdowns, such as Vogue Italia and Vogue China, have released statements on their operational switch to video conferences and online meetings with staff, members, partners, creatives, and collaborators to maintain functionality.

Image source: Phllip Picardi and his colleagues meditating before a staff meeting. Gioncarlo Valentine for The New York Times.                                                                              Although both necessary, the question of which approach is more productive has become a question for most organizations and management heads. Professional 9-5’ers mandated to work in the office and in-person settings and freelance creatives or more generally, those who work on a self-responsible schedule are opposite sides of a working spectrum that have their appeals and disadvantages that change depending on who you ask. For freelance(creatives)and at-home workers, the flexibility in hours, comfort of their own space, and the lack of commute might be ideal when these factors or the lack thereof relies on productivity. On the other hand, others might be more inclined to work in a collaborative in-person environment and would much rather distinguish a separate space to work outside of their home. Regardless of which category the majority of fashion industry professionals and creatives fall into, the sudden shift to a day-to-day lockdown and enforced at-home workdays affects us all. When it comes to the fashion industry, working from home isn’t impossible. However, much of the industry heavily relies on in-person tangible work, from model fittings, photoshoot preparations, styling, to collection shows, and presentations. Companies and brands that have been fortunate enough to facilitate remote work are faced with the sudden externally imposed isolation. And for freelancers and creatives used to working from home, their opportunities for in-person collaboration are now temporarily foregone. And now we ask: what is the new(modern) trajectory of the fashion industry? And how will all aspects of the industry manage the new reality now and in the aftermath of it?

Image source: Getty Images / Barcroft Media.

With the global fashion industry facing one of the biggest hits since world war II, and with many fashion professionals confined to their homes facing a new reality: balancing the ability to self isolate and be professionally productive, all while still maintaining a healthy mental albeit physical state of mind, and body, has become a new objective. For some that have mastered the art of self-discipline and self-motivation un-reliant on the presence of a physical office environment, the advantage of past experience in developing habits to remain productive at home, and the downside effects of this lockdown prevent itself as a less impactful challenge than it is to dedicated professionals. Issues that traditional office workers may now have to face is the lack of stimulated development without the ability to make in-person connections and work collaboratively. The isolation work order of 2020 challenges several – century-long ideas: ideas on productivity, discipline, teamwork, collaboration, and application of resources. More importantly, it challenges the notion of creativity, teamwork, and productivity for professional 9-5’ers in a state of absence of a physical work environment. Testing how those who worked in professional spaces with others can or cannot maintain that same level of creative teamwork and productivity. At-home creatives, who either collaborate with others occasionally or work on their own pace, have had the time to develop their methods – but it may be much harder now for those working remotely for the first time. While creative work, as demonstrated by at-home freelancers, is certainly possible to accomplish at home, the loss of productivity can be concerning as many are getting used to the sudden change. Thankfully, online platforms that allow for secure remote collaboration, such as Slack, Discord, Zoom, etc., have been able to facilitate these new virtual structures and operations effectively but is still an adjustment to the lack of in-person connectivity.

Image source : Alvaro Reyes for unsplash.

Regardless of which of these (new) categories you fall into – the at-home worker or the 9-5 worker, or perhaps a blend of both – the temporary loss of the work-life balance that existed before the crisis and this new reality has become the new theory of assessment and comparative analysis for so many, especially in determining the correlation, true effects and causes of productivity in the workplace and the resources applied. The isolation order has been a problematic new reality to cope with. It’s a removal of the work-life balance you were once comfortable with – even if you already typically worked from home – and because the end of the pandemic is unforeseen, it has left many wondering if they’ll have to permanently adjust to remote work for perhaps the nearest future, or if the work they once loved doing in person will be one to temporarily or permanently forego. It’s a new truth, and while it may have put the norm on pause, it’s a necessary precaution to take to ensure that what was placed on hold may once start once again. From all levels of workers and from all branches of the fashion and creative industries, the isolation orders that have been put in place have flipped the functionality of the industry on its side and will be the initiation of an emerging and needed change from this point forward. 

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