Decoding the Effects of COVID-19 on our Industry

A few weeks ago, we asked our clients, consultants, contractors, and friends of the firm to share their experiences during the current pandemic. We are excited to share our findings and some of the excerpts from our generous survey volunteers.

We recognize that COVID-19 is an evolving situation and that we all continue to learn from this experience in many ways. While we look forward to a return to normalcy in the future we encourage those who haven’t taken the survey to take a moment and send us your thoughts. We would love to hear what you have to say and continue to share our findings.

We thank all of those who provided feedback to our survey and we hope you enjoy reading our results thus far.

1. GENERAL QUESTIONS

Do you feel optimistic or doubtful about a return to normalcy?

Do you feel energized or antsy about the extra time spent at home?

Do you feel more connected to or disconnected from your team?

If you could integrate one amenity from your home office environment into your formal workplace, what would it be?

I have enjoyed the ability to move around – I am not as tied to a single desk/location.
A little more privacy, maybe a small office with personal camera and monitor.
Better quality, healthier food choices.

What video conferencing software have you used the most since the beginning of the pandemic?

If you have spent more time at home since the pandemic began, what have you done with the extra time?

I have found myself prioritizing “sanity” activities like my morning walk and evening workout. Normally I didn’t have any “me time” in the morning… it was go, go, go!
Built a chicken coop.
I feel like I work more hours! Also, home projects, walking our dogs more, playing games.
Thinking. I’ve been able to find more time to simply think as I’ve been less exposed to interruption.
Work is taking more of my day, generally 7am to 6pm, but with no travel to the office we have completed a number of home updates and 3d printing of Covid PPE.

Has the pandemic made you any more technically savvy?

What have you learned about yourself and others in our industry since the pandemic began?

Just how resilient we are and caring. There’s been a lot of checking in on all fronts from clients, co-consultants, friends. It was great to see this side of our industry.
We are a hardworking and resilient group of folks that I am proud to be associated with.
How much I value meeting with people, building relationships and helping any way we can. it has been very hard not meeting in person with everyone. Also, that everyone feels differently about our new normal, even though we still don’t know what our new normal will be. I have seen resolve and resiliency during these past few months, that we can all still work together virtually and still get projects done!
Frequent communication from leadership, and among teammates, regardless of location, is critical.
Be patient, more patient.
I love our industry. We are more than a group of service providers, we are a collective of friends. Even if we can’t meet in person, those relationships continue to grow- via emails, text, video calls.
Most people are resilient and will find a way to make things work under less than ideal circumstances.
Our industry is made up of creative problem solvers who translated design skills into solving management and workplace challenges successfully

RELATED CONTENT: READ THE RESULTS OF OUR OWN SURVEY, CREATING MEMORABLE (SHELTER-IN-)PLACES

A few months ago, we surveyed our employees to understand how working from home during Shelter-in-Place was affecting them. Learn more about life at a design firm during the pandemic.

2. CLIENTS / PROJECT MANAGERS

Has your company delayed any of its projects in design or under construction since the pandemic began?

Are you worried about continuing on with your projects that are in design or under construction?

Can you share any examples of the unforeseen consequences created by COVID-19 as it relates to your projects?

Material delays on in-flight projects, San Francisco completely shutting down and now backlog of work is creating additional delays on top of civic orders, how do we return to work safely, everything has been affected in ways we would not have anticipated. We are able to work around but it requires patience and imagination.
Some clients have utilized capital reserves for operational expenses, potentially delaying future projects
Domino effects of areas secondary to the construction project, such as real estate.

How do you think COVID-19 will change your approach to design and construction In the long term?

Social distancing within the future office environment may impact the design. I believe high touch surfaces in common areas (such as break rooms) will be re-evaluated.
We’ll address the potential for more work-from-home residents and re-think amenity spaces to some degree.
Less density, less enclosed spaces, cleanable spaces, more mobility.
We foresee more zoom meetings instead of person to person and more work from home resulting in changes to office concepts and space plans.

Do you expect your company/institution to start any new projects in the next 12 months?

What are you hearing from your peers about the development forecast for the rest of the year?

Soft for the remainder of 2020, returning to 2019 levels in 2021.
As I’ve shared with my team – It’s “prairie dog time”. Keep your head down and we’ll let you know when it’s safe to come out.
Minimal new efforts that are not absolutely necessary.

3. CONTRACTORS

How well is your company dealing with the COVID-19 regulations for construction workers and sites?

If compliance has been difficult or impossible, what are the challenges?

The first few weeks were very challenging as we navigated very fluid requirements by the City of Austin. Now that we know what we are required to do, regulating has been much simpler.
Access to construction sites can be difficult to control and requires additional personnel to enforce. We haven’t yet been able to budget for this in our projects, so it is a direct cost impact.
Safety. Schedule. Working with owners to make sure compliance is an important factor in the work environment.

Can you share any examples of the unforeseen consequences created by COVID-19 as it relates to construction?

Takes longer to get started to perform some tasks each day. Dealing with occasional positive indication (temp above 100F), helped develop safer, more thoughtful processes.

What new technologies or software has your company introduced to enhance the construction process since the beginning of COVID-19?

Teams has been a game changer. True connectivity between the DFW office and Austin office.
We are exploring several technologies for distancing/tracking/and other opportunities to trace metrics.
None. We are already very cloud based and portable, so working remotely is not a difficult transition.

What changes to construction duration have you seen since the beginning of COVID-19?

Construction has remained “essential,” so we have been able to continue work. The burden has been heavier on administration than field work. However, we have had a few cases of primary or secondary exposure to COVID that has caused whole crews to take a 72 hr withdrawal before resuming work.

How has your company’s workload been affected by COVID-19?

How do you think COVID-19 will change the construction industry In the long term?

Better prepared to make projects safer, better deal with pandemics, or other disruptions.
Safety protocols will change. Contracts will change. Schedules will change. Cleaning procedures will change. Pricing may change because of schedule increases.

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4. CONSULTANTS

What has been the most challenging aspect of working from home?

Computer/monitor setup is not as good and Internet speed is slower.
The lack of face-to-face communication has been a challenge, particularly for those that thrive off that type of interaction. We have been doing our best to overcome this with Zoom meetings, etc.
Staying connected to our employees and clients.
The hardest part of my WFH experience is logging off. I’ve worked remotely before but for some reason this time, I feel like I could be on the phone/emails almost all day.

What new technologies or software has your company introduced to enhance the design process since the beginning of COVID-19?

Have been using TEAMS more, but we made no new software or hardware purchases. We have 100% laptops and had sufficient VPN capability and cloud storage that we moved out and began working remotely immediately.
While our company had Microsoft Teams, Zoom and a company Intranet prior to COVID-19, we have seen a huge spike in the usage of all 3 platforms and expect that to continue even after we all return to the office.

How has your firm’s workload been affected by COVID-19?

When do you anticipate that your firm will return to the workplace?

When you return, will it be a partial return or a full return?

How do you personally feel about returning to the workplace?

I am comfortable with it. We issued extensive return to work plan and held multiple review meetings with all staff in all offices prior to final adoption and use.
I feel ready. We cannot live apart forever or for the duration of this pandemic and it’s important that we start to learn to do the work of being together as safely as we can.

Can you share any examples of the unforeseen consequences created by COVID-19 as it relates to design?

All those who feared and pushed back on telecommuting have been proven wrong as this will be significant part of our work planning going forward. This should promote work/life balance. Use of technology to serve remote sites has been enhanced and face time on site will probably be reduced. Owners, clients and other meeting organizers will continue to use technology to not require face to face meetings as they realize the time savings benefits to them and not just their vendors/consultants. Some realize that work remote is not the saving benefit that they thought as they are some of those pushing to allow return to office due to lost socialization. The power of direct vocal communication has returned as it allows empathy and other emotional/tangible connections lost with technology only connections.
We’ve seen a lot more discussion about “healthy” spaces, especially as it relates to indoor air quality, etc. COVID has caused higher quality HVAC systems more to the forefront of the conversation as of late in a way that it wasn’t before.
A few of our projects have paused or have been stretched in terms of timeline. We didn’t realize how quickly it would happen.

How do you think COVID-19 will change the design of the projects you work on In the long term?

Generally, I think that buildings will start to require more in design. More detail, “better” design, healthier systems – what’s compelling our clients to work or live in these spaces? COVID I think may create a step change in the amount these topics are focused on.
Minimization of space per staff will not be the driver as space per staff will expand, but number of staff in space at a given time will reduce through updated work remote and telecommuting policies. Education spaces will be similar and staggered schedules will become more normal. Work/Life balance will become part of the project programming effort more directly and not just a nod as being aspirational.
I love how we have found ways to connect remotely. Maybe the need for in person meetings may wane? Just like that meme, could this meeting really have been an email?
Possibly less shared spaces – that was becoming quite a trend.

5. FRIENDS OF THE FIRM

Has your business been affected by COVID-19?

If your business has been somewhat or significantly affected, how has it been affected?

1. A small percentage of our tenants have not paid rent. 2. Access to capital (equity and debt) has become almost impossible. 3. Current macroeconomic conditions, which we anticipate will continue for some time, are extremely limiting and challenging.
Tenants & buyers/investors are holding off to see how the economy recovers.
Lack of debt in the market, showings are slow, no listings on the market.

How do you think COVID-19 will change your business in the long term?

I worry that people won’t want to meet in person anymore. It is so hard to build strong relationships through email and virtual calls. I believe a lot of owners and developers will use the virtual option of meeting instead of meeting in person, which would be sad to me.