It’s been over a month since COVID-19 transformed the world around us. To help AEC firms quickly adapt, we released tips for working from home, shared how AEC Firms tvsdesign and Steinberg Hart are maintaining culture and reevaluating their tech stack, and provided tactics on securing software budget amidst these uncertain times.
We certainly aren’t alone in trying to support a seamless remote transition for the industry. For example, publications like Architect Magazine offered additional insight into how Architecture Firms across the country are responding to COVID-19. In addition, Nik Karalis, CEO of Woods Bagot, generously shared their lessons learned from Covid-19 and advised,
“Technology alone does not make a global studio. More important is culture and behavior. Nearly every aspect of our belief system and business systems—management styles, communication approaches, customized work schedules, knowledge platforms, mobility plans, a matrix organizational structure, bonus structures, and financial structures—ensures that we support each other.”
Among the many tools, advice, resources, and examples of how AEC firms have successfully transitioned to a remote work setting, looming questions around what the future holds remain. You may be asking yourself, when will we be back in the office? When we do return, what it will look like? What we can apply from the lessons we’ve learned during this time to improve when things are back to normal? We’ll cover the answers to these questions and what we anticipate the future holds for AEC firms in this post.
While many employees certainly prefer the office due to cramped apartments, young children at home, or a multitude of other reasons, we should not expect business as usual once offices reopen. Through a remote work setting, firms have found that perhaps we don’t have to travel as often for client meetings that can be efficiently run via Zoom or GoToMeeting. We have also developed new management technique and virtual communication strategies. While it is truly difficult for drawing collaboration to be completed remotely, higher-level employees don’t tend to draw anyway. Therefore, once COVID-19 passes, management positions in AEC firms may shift to remote permanently or partially. This transition will allow companies to both expand their work force and downsize their office spaces to save money.
A recent Gartner survey supports our prediction that some AEC firm positions will remain semi or fully remote post Covid-19. On March 30, they surveyed 317 CFOs and published their findings wherein they found that nearly 74% of CFOs surveyed plan to shift some employees to remote work permanently. We can expect this to significantly transform commercial real estate as we know it indefinitely.
Now for the silver lining… those who adapt are those who will come out stronger post COVID-19. As we’ve seen with other disruptive periods of time throughout history, the effect of COVID-19 will be (for better or for worse) for decades to come. For example, during World War II, California saw two brothers open a drive-in restaurant to meet a need to serve the working families’ desire for cheap meals to be served faster than the carhop could manage – their name was McDonald. Something more recent in memory? The 2008 economic crisis. This crisis pathed the way for reinvention. Current multi-billion dollar businesses like Airbnb and Slack were founded by highly qualified young people unemployed due to the recession.
As we move forward, we have another opportunity to reinvent ourselves in the AEC industry, namely in the area of prefabrication. In 1974, Adam Szymski talked about programming criteria for modular layouts. Obviously, the concept of prefabrication isn’t new and in recent years, prefabrication techniques and programs have gained significant momentum. Since at least 2013, there’s been numerous classes to the topic at Autodesk University and software companies like eVolveMEP have pushed the capabilities to the bleeding edge. No longer believed to be bleeding edge however, as COVID-19 has rampaged society over the last two months, we’ve seen China build hospitals from scratch.
Prefabrication plays a big role in getting these lifesaving, makeshift hospitals up and running. A recent article from fast company covers HKS retrofitting the Michigan Expo Center to accommodate a crisis surge. Their prefabrication efforts displayed with the modified ductwork and medical gas shown in Michigan Expo Center will make a significant impact on AEC designs moving forward. Engineering News-Record also highlighted the importance of the prefabrication completed at McCormick Place and how it makes the building so versatile.
In conclusion, reports show there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Our efforts to flatten the Covid-19 curve are starting to pay off and we will be collaborating in person soon enough. When that time comes, we anticipate that for the AEC industry, commercial real estate, how we use prefabrication in design, and the office work setting will be different. We are optimistic that the lessons learned amidst Covid-19 will change the future for the AEC industry for the better.
Let us know in the comments below, what do you think the future holds for the building industry as a result of Covid-19?