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AEC and Pandemic: Response and Impact - December 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

This series of monthly reports is meant to help the AEC practitioners understand the COVID-19 impact on the industry with identified short- and long-term trends. Equally the reports provide the information about the industry’s response from month to month in form of a systematization and analysis of observed challenges and solutions specific organizations offer and/or have adopted. The systematized references listed in the last section allow a deeper dive into specific topics.

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.

The volume of COVID-19 related publications seems to have further “watered-down” since September, meaning there are substantially less webinars and publications discussing the pandemic only, although the pandemic’s impact and/or related economic recession have been mentioned in the most of publications. The most important news in December 2020 is the global vaccine rollout and related issues. The volume of communication returned to pre-pandemic levels and the community is discussing typical topics. December brings countless year-end review publications. Pandemic fatigue remains. The intensity of the pandemic’s impact on the industry continues to be correlated with the health emergency and economic recession in a specific region. The challenges continue and the industry is worried about the expected economic downturn in 2021 and the next normal, though vaccine rollout brought optimism.  

Due to recapitulations and subject watering-down, we were compelled to analyze 40% more publications in December than in September. The December trend analysis is based on 715 selected references (out of 893 analyzed publications). The categorization of the observed issues in December remained the same as in previously analyzed months including 12 categories and 22 subcategories (Table 1). The number of observed issues reached its peak in June.

December 2020 Trend

Read more: Detailed trend analysis and monthly highlights

The highlights of each category observed in the latest published month (December) 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

  • From the world of politics, the focus of discussions is still on the U.S. November election – Biden’s win and Trump’s continuous election claim.
  • Other topics include Brexit, U.S. - China trade war, SolarWinds cyberattack, social justice movement, and other brewing conflicts globally.
  • Global vaccine distribution could shape into humanitarian catastrophe as rich countries stampede for vaccines over poor countries.

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

  • Discussion about this category is at its lowest level since April and we don’t expect it ever to reach the leading position from June 2020.
  • Strategic planning remains among the three most discussed topics in December, mostly due to a higher interest in leadership and self-improvement strategies for Individuals.
  • “Resilience”, “trust” & “pivot” are the words of 2020, while “thrive” is the word for 2021.
  • Various organizations are pledging net-zero emissions by a certain year. Global CO2 emissions dropped 7% in 2020 -insufficient to stop global warming.

2. Open communication and collaboration

  • The industry is communicating and collaborating in December less openly than in September due to continuous countless challenges - December communication volume and openness returned to pre-pandemic levels.
  • The trend we suggested in May that the industry accepted open communication and collaboration as a new normal is barely visible in December.
  • The number of mentions of this category in the selected references continues to decline.

3. Procedures of shifting workflows

  • This category had again the highest interest with 26.3% representation in the selected references. Only two subcategories, Current situation & Supply chain, have been discussed more in December than in September; due to increased number of analyses about 2020 & 2021; and supply chain issues.
  • We expect it to remain of the highest interest in the following months, due to continuous challenges contractors are facing such as market conditions, and delayed &/or canceled projects.
  • Global workforce wants a hybrid work model. The office is still the place to collaborate & socialize. Companies are rethinking post-pandemic work models.

4. Health and Safety (of all, including employees)

  • H&S has been discussed 20% more in December than in September.
  • December discussion focused on specific vaccine development, testing, authorizations, & distribution; and new variants.
  • Construction has the highest COVID-19 rate of nearly any industry.
  • Mental health crisis deepens due to lockdowns and restrictions, unemployment, & uncertainties in general. Vaccine rollout brought optimism.

5. Management of employees (in crisis)

  • The volume of discussions about this category decreased 32% in December in comparison to September.
  • In the first months of the outbreak employers have established the best practices & innovative solutions to accommodate employees’ needs while working remotely.
  • Methods for boosting employee engagement & productivity are further discussed in December.
  • Health & wellness of employees will remain a priority in the post-pandemic future.

6. Adoption of (new) technologies

  • Pandemic has accelerated contech adoption threefold. Funding for construction-related technology startups in the US is on track to hit $1.3 billion in 2020, a 56% YoY increase from 2019. Significant opportunities exist for strategic and financial investors.
  • High-impact areas of construction tech include digital collaboration, scanning, safety, wearables, BIM and CAD, robotics, smart building tech.
  • The construction technology ecosystem is shifting toward integrated software platforms that better serve customer needs.
  • SolarWinds cybersecurity breach brought focus on the issue. Cybersecurity and blockchain standards are being discussed.

7. Buildings & cities for a next normal

  • In December the interest in this category has remained on the same level as in September in line with overall dilution of pandemic-related articles.
  • The community is “taking a break” and returning to their usual discussion topics such as sustainable materials. December publications bring reviews of 2020 architectural projects and awards.
  • The community continues to discuss future of the workplace; the megatrends reshaping AEC; future housingr; public space change in 2020; a boom & digitalization of drive-thru restaurants & distribution centers; social justice; infrastructure & green future.
  •  Architectural billings in December continue to decline since October.

8. Silver lining

  • The volume of observed talks about silver lining (i.e., conversion of challenges into opportunities) continues to decline in December.
  • Continuous uncertainties and challenges contributed to optimism decline.
  • Business leaders believe that the damage wrought by the pandemic provides an opportunity to reengineer business as usual and more aggressively tackle the problems of tomorrow.
  • Other examples include accelerated digital transformation and increased investments toward ESG.

9. Future predictions

  • Discussion about future with predictions lessened approximately 30% in December in comparison to September.
  • The post-pandemic future has become much closer with the vaccine rollout, but it may take until Q4 2021 to fully achieve herd immunity.
  • 2021 will be a supercharged economy - excess savings have supported households in 2020, and rising wages will boost them next year.
  • Commuting and business travel will mostly disappear, bringing benefits to climate change fight. But the dispersion will bring erosion of empathy & segregation.

10. Official Strategies / Guidelines // Rules / Regulations

  • The discussion about this category remained on the same level as in September. 
  • WELL, RESET® and Fitwel have been successfully applied. The community still discusses the need for new building operation standards & healthier policy priorities. Globally city level policies are transforming megacities.
  • Vaccine rollout requires regulatory framework. Employers can require proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Due to pandemic, some environmental regulations have been eased by governments to bail out leading oil and gas companies setting back the fight against climate change.

11. Building operations

  • The volume of discussion about this category decreased 30% in December since September.
  • Building operations continue to play crucial role in strategies to return occupants safely in workspaces and creating healthier buildings by leveraging buildings to mitigate viral transmission.
  • Since improving HVAC systems to comply with official guidelines can be costly and inefficient, the community discusses strategic HVAC options and alternatives.
  • Safe workspace re-entry comes with a unique set of challenges around effective collaboration, security, information management and the technology infrastructure.

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

References

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

Research Team

Lead Researcher: Natasa Mrazovic
Prinicipal Investigator: Martin Fischer
Website: Junwen Zheng, Marc Ramsey, Andrew Peterman
Comments or Questions: cife-aec-pandemic-research@stanford.edu