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AEC and Pandemic: Response and Impact - August 2020 Update

On the left: Cleaners: a new crew on construction site (Source: iStock). On the right: An Example of physical distancing measures at Dolores Park, San Francisco (Courtesy of Natasa Mrazovic)

Research initiative

The COVID-19 pandemic is bringing considerable changes to AEC’s business-as- usual. The primary research objective is to monitor and analyze AEC stakeholders’ response to the pandemic and develop lessons-learned guidelines for a “new normal” afterwards. The research will not only  identify and analyze the quantified and qualified short- & long-term impacts and trends, and provide insights, but also build a shared platform to share information for CIFE members to more smoothly adjust to the new normal and be better prepared for future crises.

Categorization of the observed issues &  Trend analysis

Given our observation of countless project-specific challenges and the response of the industry, we grouped the issues into 12 overlapping topics. The categorization and the trends will be analyzed monthly and updated as the industry focus changes.

In August 2020 the communication about the COVID-19 vs. AEC continued to decrease as July's trend. The “red alert” news have become standard news less frequently published. The community has “embraced the growing pains”. Our August observations were based on the selected 273 references (out of 462 analyzed August publications). The trends of the categories are provided in the table and the diagram below.

The AEC industry accepted Open communication and collaboration as a new normal during the pandemic though the discussion is becoming less transparent in comparison to April. The talk about Silver lining has substantially decreased in last three months. The interest in (Advance) planning – short- & long-term strategiesand Procedures of shifting workflowsincreased, while the interest in Health and safety and Adoption of (new) technologies has slightly decreased in August.  Building and cities for a next normal were discussed 50% more in August than in July. The discussion about Future predictions and Official strategies / guidelines // rules / regulations has remained on the same level as in July, while the interest in Building operations increased.

Read more: Detailed trend analysis and monthly highlights

The highlights of each category observed in the latest published month (August) are provided in the blocks below. More information about a specific category from the latest and previous months can be found in the downloaded report(s) - the links are provided below.

0. Global socio-economic, geo-political developments affecting AEC

  • The discussion about this category has decreased 25% since July due to summer slowdown, though the global economic downturn triggered by the pandemic continues to deepen.

  • Global developments such as the trade war between US and China, politicization of the vaccine race and the pandemic response, the postponed elections globally and the implications of the upcoming election in the US continue to impact AEC indirectly.

1. (Advance) planning: short- & long-term strategies

  • This category slightly increased its presence in August, though it is not expected to reach the number one position from June 2020 in the following months.
  • It includes strategies for businesses (economy sectors) / projects, individuals and sustainability & "green future" initiatives. The three subcategories remained on the same levels of interest as in July.
  • Climate change disastrous events in August are keeping increased focus on the topics of sustainability and "green future".

2. Open communication and collaboration

  • The industry accepted open communication and collaboration as a new normal during the pandemic, and we estimate that the industry is communicating and collaborating in August as open as in July but less openly than in April due to reported challenges such as competition, and backlog and revenue decline.
  • Mentions of Open communication and collaboration remained on the same level as in July.
  • Mergers, acquisitions and partnerships are on the rise.

3. Procedures of shifting workflows

  • This category has taken the number one position for the fourth time in the past 5 months and we expect it to remain of the highest interest in the following months, due to challenges such as market conditions, issues with contracting and potential litigations.
  • Although financing is available, many investors are playing the wait-and-see game. Hence, Financials; cashflow/ Contracts/ Litigations has been 96% more discussed in August than in July. Of the 6 subcategories, only Remote work (work from home - WFH) has been less discussed in August as we all adjusted to WHF. Workspace re-entry is taking again the momentum.

4. Health and Safety (H&S)

  • H&S have been discussed 15% less in August than in July but overall remained on the same level over the past 4 months. The August discussion focuses on vaccine race, drugs, symptoms, masks, adequacy of COVID-19 response, return to school, etc.
  • The US contractors report OSHA shutting down jobsites that don’t follow jobsite guidelines for social distancing, handwashing and other coronavirus-related precautions.
  • Mental health crisis follows the pandemic and it is worsening due to quarantine, unemployment rates, and uncertainties in general.

5. Management of employees In crisis

  • The interest in this topic decreased slightly in August, but overall remains on the same level over the past 5 months and it will likely remain of importance in the future as the workforce is “the most important asset of every organization”.
  • Treating people with respect and dignity, and giving them greater purpose – can become a unifying rally for an organization. Remote managers should manage by defining outcomes—coaching people, giving them tools and resources, and trusting people to get their work done.

6. Adoption of (new) technologies

  • The interest in this topic slightly decreased in August due to summer slowdown. In contrast, all subcategories (except Virtual communication & collaboration...)are experiencing increase in published volume.
  • Digitization and digitalization remain mandatory long-term strategies. The trend of accelerated digital transformation continues in August. Technological solutions have answers to almost all problems in AEC; e.g., supply chains rely on data-driven approaches, automation and blockchain.
  • The focus in digital tech in AEC in August continues to be on smart “healthy” buildings, AI, COVID-19 tech solutions for workspace re-entry such as contact tracing; and  cybersecurity & privacy solutions.

7. Buildings & cities for a next normal

  • This topic is 50% more discussed in August than in July. Architects and urban designers continue to discuss the future of (healthy smart) cities with updated transportation systems,  public spaces, green future, (suburban) migrations, adaptation of malls into warehouses, equitable community engagement in planning, etc.
  • Digital technologies can help return trust in spaces and places. Architectural billings still show little sign of improvement. (Results of) countless architectural competitions for post-pandemic reality are published. Architects envision memorials for coronavirus victims. Infrastructure projects continue its streak in August. Warehouses, data centers and renovations are slightly more discussed than offices and residential buildings.

8. Silver lining

  • The number of talks about silver lining continues to decline in August; following substantial decrease in June from May and April. Increase in the number & intensity of challenges  over the past months contributed to optimism decline.
  • In parallel with the drop in silver lining discussions, industry is increasingly taking this crisis as business opportunity (less talking & more doing). Service providers in digital technologies continue to lead the effort.
  • Silver lining examples during pandemic expressed in August include 17% global emission reduction, and shared global experience of communities coming together.

9. Future predictions

  • The discussion about future with predictions remained on the same level as in July. The community discusses the future of working and living together, education, offices (with more permanent outdoor workspaces), cities, transportation, infrastructure in climate change, community engagement, sharing economy, etc.
  • As in July there are more questions than answers about post-pandemic reality. Some suggest to focus on current challenges and stop with speculations that can be contradicting.

10. Official Strategies / Guidelines // Rules / Regulations

  • The discussion about this category slightly increased in August. WELL certification for buildings to address a post COVID-19 environment is showing successful application in public buildings. Other certification organizations, such as RESET® and Fitwel, are providing certifications and policies with practices to mitigate the spread of contagious diseases within buildings.
  • New building operation standards are required as the current guidelines are not sustainable.

11. Building operations

  • The interest in this category increased 172% in August in comparison to July. Building operations play crucial role in strategies to return occupants safely in workspaces; by e.g., leveraging buildings to migrate viral transmission.
  • The “healthy buildings” term temporarily replaced “sustainable buildings” - indoor air quality has become more important than energy efficiency; though both topics should be addressed in parallel; use AI-driven tech to optimize autonomous operations, improve occupant comfort and lower energy consumption.

Monthly Reports (PDF)

The full reports with detailed analysis and systematization of the references can be downloaded below.

2020:   April       May       June       July       August       September       October       November       December      

2021:  January     February     March     April     May      June


The links to the subpages with systematized references are at the bottom of this page. The lists of references allow the reader "a deeper dive" into specific topics.

2020:  April       May       June       July       August       September       October       November       December     

2021:  January    February     March    April     May     June

Research Team

Lead Researcher: Natasa Mrazovic
Prinicipal Investigator: Martin Fischer
Website: Junwen Zheng, Marc Ramsey, Andrew Peterman
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