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AEC and Pandemic: Response and Impact - June 2021 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

This report is based on our observations of the post-peak pandemic transitional period in AEC in June ‘21 (June 1 – 30) with reflections on the previous 15 months. In June 2021 the pandemic’s impact continues to be one of the most important discussion topics in the AEC industry, while the discussions about sustainability and climate change follow closely. The most important news are optimistic vaccination rates in the developed countries and economic rebounds, though looming highly contagious Delta variant and high numbers of infected and deaths in some countries have become a new normal. Travel is resuming, though mostly leisure, and restrictions remain.

Overall, the AEC industry is in a recovery trajectory and optimistic about the future. The intensity of the pandemic’s impact on the industry continues to be correlated with the health emergency and economic recession/rebound in a specific country. All countries expect China experienced GDP contraction in 2020. The June AEC data and statistics are around pre-pandemic positive levels and show that the AEC industry recovered, with growth expectations, although challenges remain, such as soaring materials prices, ongoing coronavirus measures and worker shortages, leaving many contractors unable to confidently move forward with major projects.

The volume of communication and collaboration in AEC returned to pre-pandemic levels already in December ‘20 and the AEC community is discussing its usual topics including continuing pandemic induced supply chain issues with construction material/ input prices jumping, reopenings, hybrid workspace re-entry, construction projects going forward, infrastructure investments, labor shortage, vaccination of employees and pandemic related guidelines/ regulations. The June trend analysis is based on 556 selected references (out of 663 analyzed publications). The categorization of the observed issues in June remained the same as in the previous months, including 12 categories and 22 subcategories.

June 2021 Trend Chart

Read more: Detailed trend analysis and monthly highlights

The highlights of each category observed in the latest published month (June) 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 increased in comparison to March data as economies rebound and political and social developments increase.
  • The global economy could be on the verge of a 40% recovery that delivers sustained and equitable growth for several years. The US economic recovery is unlike any in recent history. Brighter more equitable future is in front of us.
  • G-7 discussed climate change, coronavirus pandemic and China. Cyberattacks are booming. US-Russia cyber ceasefire will probably remain on words only. The threat of US-China conflict is present but not inevitable. China’s crackdown on Hong Kong continues. Iran has a new president, and Israel has a new prime minister. The first person has been sentenced in the Capitol riot.

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

  • Strategic planning remains among the 3 most discussed topics in June ‘21, due to a higher interest in Sustainability/ Green future – opportunity to address climate change.The subcategories of Individuals and Businesses (economy sectors)have stayed at the same level of interest as in March.
  • Some companies are using their COVID-19 plans as the basis for complete strategy overhauls, while others are using strategy inserts or short interventions.
  • Over 35,000 mergers, acquisitions and partnerships have been announced this year, as part of strategic plans for expansion, digitalization and sustainability.
  • Financial managers are stretching the definition of green in how they deploy investors’ funds. Time is running out for business leaders who don’t have a net zero strategy.

2. Open communication and collaboration

  • June communication volume and openness is on pre-pandemic levels (as in previous 6 months). The number of Open communication and collaboration mentions continues to decline. Practitioners are cautious and protective of their businesses, due to continuous challenges.
  • Current global supply chain crisis, climate change and sustainability efforts, and diversity and inclusion initiatives require open communication and collaboration. COVID-19 has shown us massive collaboration is possible, but there are many barriers to overcome.

3. Procedures of shifting workflows

  • This category had again the highest interest with 39% representation in the selected references; due to continuous challenges contractors are facing and workflow shifts.
  • The June challenges include worker H&S, project shutdowns and delays, fewer projects, less availability of products, labor shortage increase, supply chain delays, material shortage & cost fluctuations.
  • On the other hand, the construction data and statistics are all above pre-pandemic positive levels and show that the AEC industry recovered, with growth expectations (the trend since March '21).
  • The interest in all subcategories, except Workspace re-entry, increased in comparison to March.

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

  • H&S has been discussed 17% less in June than in March mostly due to vaccination success and reopenings.
  • Vaccine rollouts and the Delta variant are the major topics. Delta is wracking the reopening plans, and initiating lockdowns in countries that have smoothly sailed the pandemic till now. Travel resumes slowly.
  • COVID-19 tested the world’s ability to monitor and respond to an outbreak of a deadly infectious disease. More people have died from COVID-19 already this year than in all of 2020.
  • Workers are quitting their jobs to put their mental health and wellbeing first. The movement is called Great Resignation.

5. Management of employees (in crisis)

  • The interest in this category remained on the same high level as in March.
  • Leaders are trying to accommodate employees’ needs, health and wellbeing in a post-pandemic workplace while boosting engagement and productivity. Each of the three major methods, WFH, hybrid solutions and full workplace re-entry in person, asks for different methods.
  • Healthy corporal cultures include meaningful values, emphasized bottom-up innovation, encouraged employee creativity and entrepreneurship, knowledge sharing, performance transparency, role clarity and operational discipline.

6. Adoption of (new) technologies

  • The interest in this category has increased 26% in June as digitalization and automation continue to be the most important strategies in the next normal.
  • Pandemic has accelerated contech adoption threefold and investments increased 56% per year.
  • Only the Cybersecurity / Privacysubcategory is experiencing 70% interest increase due to countless daily news of cyberattacks and ransomware and the response of various global organization - expected substantial increase of similar events in the future.
  • Automation talks increased, including reignited interest in 3D printing and modularization.

7. Buildings & cities for a next normal

  • The industry’s positive recovery trends influenced a 15% increased interest in this category in comparison to the March data.
  • 5 of 7 subcategories are seeing interest increase; e.g., Offices due to increased discussion about office re-entry, hybrid methods and reversal to sustainability/ green future discussions; Residential buildings due to roaring residential market; and Renovation/ Revitalization (adaptive re-use projects) due to increased focus on how to transfer existing buildings into healthier and sustainable environments.
  • Community discusses H&S, wellbeing and comfort, smart sustainable buildings and cities, “agritecture”, neurodiversity and biophilia, circular economy, off-grid and anti-high-rise buildings, social responsibility of design, beyond human-scale, and modular and digital technologies such as holography and holograms.

8. Silver lining

  • Optimism about reopening and returning to pre-pandemic normal diminished the need to talk about silver lining.
  • Overall, pandemic has given us an opportunity to dress rehearse for climate change events, reimagine health systems, it has accelerated digitalization, brought us together to work on shared goals, transformed the way we work, brought innovation to the way we think about employees, their needs and purpose, and made hybrid future imminent.
  • On personal levels, it has allowed us to reevaluate our lives, relationships and wellbeing.

9. Future predictions

  • The community is optimistic about the future and busy with challenges, such as supply chain issues, that are driving prices of construction inputs.
  • Eight trends that will define 2021 and beyond: innovation, consumer behavior, environment, healthcare, government, restructuring of corporate portfolios, shifting supply chains, and return to air travel. More jobs will be created than lost because of these trends.
  • A possible new age of global prosperity, with high rates of economic growth and surging healthcare innovation is in front of us.

10. Official Strategies / Guidelines // Rules / Regulations

  • The discussion about this category slightly increased in June in comparison to March.
  • Vaccination guidelines for employers, (temporary) COVID-related standards and revisions in line with reopening plans, and global cybersecurity and privacy regulations and implications are discussed.
  • The long-awaited vaccination regulations for employers in the US have been published on May 28.
  • Remote work policy is a crucial part of a hybrid employer handbook.
  • School leaders are using the WELL health-safety rating to bring back in-person learning.
  • Cybersecurity organizations and regulations are becoming common.

11. Building operations

  • Building operations continue to play crucial role in strategies to workspace re-entry & creating healthier buildings. The peak of the discussion was in summer ‘20.
  • Energy efficiency is regaining momentum, with health and wellbeing of occupants remaining a priority.
  • Buildings that have connections with the outdoors, environmental control, mixed-use environments, Indoor Air Quality monitoring, and anti-pathogen HVAC upgrades appear more attractive to tenants.
  • Intelligent buildings technologies for public health, risk management, operational cost-efficiency, and the experiences are necessary for returning occupants and the public to commercial RE. 5G promises to deliver significantly better network performance in the long-term.

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

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    April     May     June

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