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AEC and Pandemic - March 2021 Trend Analysis

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Trend analysis

March 2021 Trend Chart

March 2021 Highlights

  1. The industry is communicating and collaborating in March ‘21 less openly than in December ‘20 (10% representativeness in the selected references - down from 20% in December). The industry’s operations returned to pre-pandemic business-as-usual. The businesses have learned to take advantage of the crisis. Practitioners are cautious and protective of their businesses, due to continuous challenges, such as supply chain delays, high cost of raw material and labor shortage, issues with contracting and potential litigations. The number of Open communication and collaboration mentions continues to decline. For example, current global supply chain issues require open communication and collaboration of all stakeholders globally: “Everyone is responsible, but no one is to blame.”
  2. The volume of observed talks about silver lining also continues to decline in March ‘21 (1.2% in March ‘21 vs. 3.2% in December). Optimism about reopening and returning to a new normal diminished the need to talk about silver lining. The industry has been taking successfully this crisis as business opportunity. Service providers in digital (construction) technologies continue to lead the effort. Besides digitalization and the visibility of the scale and effort to address climate change, this crisis has brought a chance for large companies to “reset” and prioritize the environment, the community, customers and employees, opened the way for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, entrepreneurship boom, and the interconnectedness of business and society with stakeholder capitalism coming in as a bridge between businesses and the communities.
  3. The interest in the category of (Advance) planning – short- & long-term strategies slightly picked up from December lows (29% in March ‘21 vs. 26.3% in December ‘20) because of the reignited planning for the post-pandemic future. We do not expect this topic ever to reach the number one position from June ‘20. Strategic planning remains among the three most discussed topics in March ‘21, mostly due to a higher interest in leadership and self-improvement strategies for Individuals (14.8% representativeness). The two remaining subcategories (Sustainability/ Green future – opportunity to address climate change and Businesses (economy sectors)) have been at the approximately same level as in December. 80% of executives believe their organizations have responded effectively to the pandemic, but some companies have proven to be more resilient than others, rapidly adapting their strategies to address both the challenges and the opportunities created by the crisis. Business-model innovation was by far the most important strategic lever in addressing the crisis, and these innovations will persist beyond the crisis. New normal requires building a new culture. Various countries and companies continue to pledge net-zero emissions by a specific year. Natural climate solutions, including conservation, restoration, and land-management actions that increase carbon storage and avoid greenhouse-gas emissions, offer a way to address climate change and nature loss, and to increase resilience. COVID-19 lockdowns are likely to result in just a 0.01℃ reduction in global warming by 2050. However, green investment under government stimulus packages could cut up to 25% off emissions predicted in 2030.
  4. The discussion about Global socio-economic, geo-political developments affecting AEC (indirectly) has remained on the same level as in December (17%). Countries are assessing the damage to economic growth wrought in 2020 by lockdowns. China – US – EU tariffs for trade are re-examined given the new US government actions. Blockage of the Suez Canal is further delaying global supply chains. The topics from the world of politics and global conflicts include the US- Russia cold relationship, Myanmar protests and armed response of the junta, delay of Hong Kong elections, Saudi Arabia investing in hydrogen market, and cyberattack on Microsoft blamed on China.  Global vaccine distribution could shape into humanitarian catastrophe as rich countries stampede for vaccines over poor countries. COVID-19 has doubled the amount of people living in poverty. Vaccine passports and “fake” vaccine networks are discussed. After historic COVID-led drop, carbon emissions resurge.
  5. The category of Procedures of shifting workflows has had the highest interest with 35.8% representation in the selected references. This category has taken the number one position for the seventh time in the 8 monthly reports for the past 12 months. It remained of the highest interest due to continuous shifts of workflows. The March challenges include worker H&S, project shutdowns and delays, fewer projects, less availability of products, labor shortage increase, supply chain delays, material shortage and cost fluctuations. On the other hand, Architectural Billing Index (ABI), an indicator of future construction spending, shows positive trend first time since the pandemic began, contractors’ revenue expectations and backlogs are on the rise with reports of delayed projects restarting. Three subcategories, Current situation, Supply chain, and Workspace re-entry have been discussed more in March ‘21 than in December ‘20. More contractors plan to increase spending on digitalization, tools and equipment. Residential construction jobs are back to their pre-pandemic peak of February ‘20, while non-residential has regained only 51% of those jobs. Autodesk data shows construction bidding activity up 36% from pre-pandemic levels. Backlog is stabilizing and many nonresidential contractors expect both sales and staffing levels to expand over the next 6 months. Supply chain news are focused on delays (for up to three months) in ports additionally aggravated by the Suez Canal blockage. Tariff and trade concerns are up. More contractors say steel and aluminum tariffs will have a high to very high degree of impact on their business in the next three years. Stricter regulatory frameworks and open communication and collaboration between China, the US and Europe is required. Workspace re-entry discussions increased in comparison to December due to reopening plans. Most of the companies are planning (hybrid) workplace. For the same reason, Remote work (work from home - WFH) discussions are at their lowest level since April ’20. Across the globe, workers want a hybrid work model, but the office is still the place to connect, collaborate and socialize. The concept of office changed permanently and it is hybrid and flexible. The interest in Site procedures and legal and financial issues is at its lowest level since April/May ‘20. Employee vaccination rate will become a new KPI. 90% of employers could look to require vaccines for office return.
  6. Health and safety (H&S) have been discussed 11% more in March than in December (21.8% vs. 19.7%) mostly due to vaccine rollouts and new virus variants. The March developments include: vaccines work, the vaccine rollout is improving, more vaccines are coming, therapeutics are poised to make more of a difference, new cases and deaths are lower but still high, more infectious variants may drive a new wave of cases in coming months; and variants may also reduce vaccine efficacy or enable reinfection. The discussion continues about vaccine distributions, side-effects, vaccine rumors, lagging symptoms, etc. Experts predict progress toward normalcy during the second quarter of 2021 in the UK and the US and herd immunity in the third quarter. The new wave of cases in the EU means that these transitions are likely to come later. But new variants of the coronavirus and other risks threaten that timeline. China is expected to reach heard immunity in the third quarter of 2022. Many low-income countries may not receive enough doses to vaccinate all adults until well into 2022. Vaccine rollout has brought optimism and vaccinated are slowly returning to some pre-pandemic activities. Nevertheless, mental health crisis remains. Health and wellness of employees will remain a priority in the post-pandemic workplace.
  7. The interest in Management of employees (in crisis) increased 89% in March in comparison to December. The best practices and innovative solutions to accommodate employees’ needs in the post-pandemic workplace are discussed. Each of the three major workplace types (WFH, hybrid solutions and full workplace re-entry in person) have different methods for boosting employee engagement and productivity while taking care of employees’ health and wellbeing.
  8. The interest in Adoption of (new) technologies has slightly dropped in March (22.4% in March vs. 24.5% in December) due to a higher interest in workflows shifts. Nevertheless, digitalization and automation continue to be the most important strategies during the pandemic and in the next normal. Contech investments continue to increase - pandemic has accelerated contech adoption threefold. In 2020 funding for construction-related technology startups hit $1.3B, a 56% YoY increase from 2019. In March only one subcategory is experiencing interest increase; Cybersecurity / Privacy, due to countless news of cyberattacks and ransomware. We can expect substantial increase in similar events in the future.  In December SolarWinds hack was the most publicized event, while in March an attack on Microsoft Email Exchange servers by a Chinese government- backed hacking group is taking the center stage. The attack claimed over 60,000 victims globally. Cybersecurity and blockchain standards continue to be discussed by various institutions. Other 5 subcategories are experiencing decrease of interest; especially, COVID-19 related solutions (for public); contact tracing, etc. given that we are at the end of pandemic. COVID-related solutions have been developed and tested in 2020. Virtual communication & collaboration (Zoom, BIM360, etc.), Virtual site inspections, AR/VR etc. will stay in the post-pandemic future. Developments and application in automation and robotics continue. 3D printed houses are going for sale - an important milestone in the sector.
  9. In March the interest in Buildings and cities for a next normal has increased 44% from the December levels given the industry’s positive optimistic recovery trends, more (new) building projects, restarts of the projects, higher backlogs. Architectural billings increased for the first time since pandemic began. Residential buildings and City planning; Smart cities / Infrastructure / Landscape & marine projects have been discussed more in March than in December; mostly due to roaring residential market (that recovered to its pre-pandemic levels) and the focus on infrastructure projects (due to governmental investments via stimulus bills). Pandemic-specific articles dropped to a minimum given that we are at the end of the pandemic. Design trends focus on health, comfort and wellbeing of building users (human-centered design), biophilia – indoor and outdoor greenery and reflecting pools, shade, ventilation and nature - passive thermal comfort strategies, seamless flow between indoor and outdoor spaces, sustainability in every aspect of building design from material selection to landscape and local environment. The community discusses trauma-informed design and the future of interior spaces (form follows feeling), healing architecture through a sensorial and spatial experience, sustainable, green, equal and inclusive, and revitalized future cities, world’s first space hotel (to open in 2027), digitalization and robotics in design and art, and smart building technologies.
  10. The volume of discussion about Building operations decreased 13% in March since December (from 3.8% in December to 3.3% in March). The peak of the discussion was over summer 2020. Building operations continue to play crucial role in strategies to return occupants safely in workspaces and creating healthier buildings. The volume of discussions about strategic HVAC options for commercial buildings and alternatives to comply with various guidelines has decreased in March. Sustainable green buildings (with alternative HVAC solutions for using less energy) and related regulations are again becoming the most important topic. Leading edge of technology, integration and connectivity is required. Passive thermal comfort strategies in residential buildings are getting attention. Cybersecurity in smart buildings is discussed. A “Zero trust” network can reduce attack surface by 95% while reducing cost and complexity by 50 – 80%.
  11. The discussion about Official Strategies / Guidelines // Rules / Regulations increased over 60% in comparison to December. In 2020 reports we highlighted successful application of WELL certification for buildings to address a post COVID-19 environment and news from RESET® and Fitwel. The guidelines and standards are regularly updated. In March CDC’s updated its guidance for unvaccinated people indoor & outdoor. Developing regulatory mechanisms to address climate change is crucial for our survival and we can learn from the pandemic. Commitments of the companies to reduce emissions, end deforestation, reduce waste and other environmentally friendly actions have been increasing across supply chain policies. The global AEC community is focusing on standards and plans for decarbonization of buildings. Experts call for unified or harmonized standards as currently many frameworks exist (such as CDC, SABS, SFDR). Contractors consider COVID-19 vaccine incentives for hesitant workers. Mental health and wellbeing of employees, including construction workers, are in new guidelines. Supply chain issues brought attention to a lack of regulatory mechanisms to protecting the public from profiteers. Establishment of an infectious disease-specific emergency temporary standard continues to be discussed. In the US, OSHA launches COVID-19 National Emphasis Program, prioritizes onsite inspections. The International Code Council published a series of guidelines and recommendations for agencies to follow and rapidly adopt the practice of virtual inspections of construction sites while maintaining COVID-19 guidelines. The need for global cybersecurity standards is discussed. The European Data Protection Board (EDPB), and the European Commission published drafts for personal-data-transfer situations. Quick adoption of AI is bringing debate surrounding ethics, governance and regulations.
  12. The discussion about future with predictions lessened approximately 50% in March in comparison to December as we are at the pandemic’s end and stepping into the future. The community is optimistic about the future due to progressive vaccine rollout and busy with challenges. Over the next two years, AI will have the greatest impact on customer intelligence. The bulk of short- and long-term pandemic-driven construction industry issues has been or will be solved with technology. Futuristic building concepts are emerging; like vertical fully automated grocery stores (the automation trend will happen quickly and become dominant trend moving forward in the next 5-10 years), world’s first space hotel (to open in 2027), and the first digital home, Mars House, was sold on the NFT Marketplace. When the economy settles into its next normal the industries are expected to return to somewhere around their previous relative positions. The dynamics within sectors are likely to change. Experts are using lessons from past to predict the future. Scott Galloway predicts entrepreneurship boom as the pandemic was shorter than previous recessions and the recovery will be K-shaped. In the next 36 months he believes the US economy will birth a new generation of web 3.0 firms and leaders. He highlights four dispersion trends: workspaces are changing affecting residential and office RE and cities, higher education is partially going online, and healthtech and crypto will boom giving opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs. 20% of global workforce will continue to work remotely indefinitely

December 2020 Highlights

  1. In December 2020 the pandemic continues to be the most important discussion topic in the AEC industry, although sustainability and climate change, and social justice remain popular as well. Global vaccine rollout brought optimism, but the pandemic fatigue continues. The intensity of the pandemic impacts remains on the same level as over the summer, correlated with the health emergency and economic recession in a specific region. The December circumstances for the industry remain the same as in the previous three months – the AEC community is adjusted to a pandemic normal, “hunkered down” over the winter months, waiting for a new normal once the vaccine rollout generates herd immunity. Although adapted to uncertainties and cautiously optimistic, the challenges and worries continue due to expected economic downturn in 2021 and the next normal. The Q4 data “signal lean times in construction for the foreseeable future”. Nevertheless, construction has performed better than most industries in the pandemic.
  2. The volume of COVID-19 related publications seems to have further “watered-down” since September with substantially less webinars and publications discussing the pandemic only. The communication returned to pre-pandemic levels and topics. December brought countless year-end reviews. The dilution of pandemic-focused publications signals permanent change. 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 the previous months, including 12 categories and 22 subcategories.
  3. The industry is communicating and collaborating in December less openly than in September (20% representativeness in the selected references - down from 50% in September) due to continuous countless challenges, such as further backlog declines, competition, delayed and cancelled projects, increased cashflow issues, issues with contracting and potential litigations. The number of Open communication and collaboration mentions continues to decline. The trend we suggested in May that the industry accepted open communication and collaboration as a new normal is barely visible in December.
  4. The volume of observed talks about silver lining also continues to decline in December (3.2% in December vs. 3.9% in September) though we observe that the industry is taking this crisis as business opportunity, especially service providers in digital technologies continue to lead the effort. Silver lining is mentioned in most of the 2020 reviews and 2021 predictions. 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. Accelerated digital transformation and visibility of the scale and effort required to address climate change with increased investments toward ESG are two leading positive outcomes of the pandemic.
  5. The interest in category of (Advance) planning – short- & long-term strategies is at its lowest level since April (26.3% vs. 27.1% in September) and we do not expect this topic ever to reach the number one 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 (12% representativeness). The two remaining subcategories (Sustainability/ Green future – opportunity to address climate change and Businesses (economy sectors)) have been at the lowest point since April. The volume peak of business strategies discussions was in June. December brings results of the business strategies taken in the previous months, such as acquisitions and mergers. In 2020 reviews “resilience” and “trust” continue to be the most important words of 2020, while in business strategy publications, word “pivot” was the 2020 theme, while “thrive” is the word for 2021, a “stabilization” year.  New normal requires building a new culture. Various countries and companies are pledging net-zero emissions by a certain year. COVID-19 lockdowns are likely to result in just a 0.01℃ reduction in global warming by 2050. Green investment under government stimulus packages could cut up to 25% off emissions predicted in 2030. Overall global carbon dioxide emissions dropped about 7% in 2020 compared to 2019 which is insufficient to stop global warming.
  6. The discussion about Global socio-economic, geo-political developments affecting AEC (indirectly) has decreased 30% in comparison to September in line with our observation of countless recapitulation articles. 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, social justice movement, brewing conflicts globally with emphasis on the global economic downturn, and SolarWinds cyberattack. Global vaccine distribution could shape into humanitarian catastrophe as rich countries stampede for vaccines over poor countries.
  7. The category of Procedures of shifting workflows has had again the highest interest with 26.3% representation in the selected references. It has taken the number one position for the sixth time in the past 9 months and we expect it to remain of the highest interest until the pandemic’s end, due to challenges contractors are facing such as market conditions, issues with cash and working capital, and delayed or canceled projects. Two subcategories only, Current situation and Supply chain have been discussed more in December than in September. The increase of interest in the Current situation subcategory are due to recapitulations and 2021 prediction analyses. Construction organizations provide bleak outlook for the next months. Although all statistical construction indicators have been down since October and November, construction has been one of the most resilient industries in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Supply chain news are focused on holiday delays, unprecedented cargo volumes, vaccine distribution and construction material shortages that will continue in 2021. The future of (hybrid) workplace have been extensively discussed (in Remote work (work from home - WFH) and Workspace re-entry). The interest in these topics has decreased since September, as WFH and lockdowns continue globally. The longer we work remotely, the more it not only affects how we work, but also shapes our future expectations for the office. Across the globe, workers want a hybrid work model, but the office is still the place to connect, collaborate and socialize. The concept of office is changing permanently. Five trends driving the new post-pandemic workplace: mobility, worker’s choice where and when to work, privacy, unassigned seating, and health & wellbeing. Companies should rethink post-pandemic work models based on their cultures. A hybrid approach is the way going forward for AEC; “approximately 60% of the workforce can WFH”. The questions about legal and financial issues such as vaccination requirements are trending. Employee vaccination rate will become a new KPI.
  8. Health and safety (H&S) have been discussed 20% more in December than in September mostly due to vaccine rollout. The December discussion focused on specific vaccine development and testing (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Sinovac, Johnson & Johnson, Astra Zeneca), vaccination priority (which groups should be vaccinated first), vaccine distributions and rumors, new variants (in the UK, South Africa and Brazil), and updated guidance about airborne transmission. Construction has the highest COVID-19 rate of nearly any industry. Mental health crisis deepens due to lockdowns and restrictions, unemployment, and uncertainties in general. Healthcare systems are facing unprecedented strain. Reopenings and workplace re-entry continue to be marked with fears of virus contagion although vaccine rollout brought optimism. Employee burnout increased with WFH. Health and wellness of employees will remain a priority in the post-pandemic future. The interest in Management of employees (in crisis) decreased 32% in December in comparison to September. In the first months of the outbreak the employers have established the best practices and innovative solutions to accommodate employees’ needs while working remotely. Methods for boosting employee engagement and productivity are discussed.
  9. The interest in Adoption of (new) technologies has remained on the same level as in September as digitalization and automation continue to be the most important strategies during the pandemic and in the next normal. Pandemic has accelerated contech adoption threefold; the industry in 2020 adopted in one year what would have normally taken three. Four out of 6 subcategories are experiencing interest increase: 1) Robotics, Automation, Mobile Unmanned Systems (MUS); 3D printing (additive manufacturing), etc.; 2) Smart buildings: IT+OT; IoT, digital twin, big data – analytics & processing, sensors, AI, proptech, etc.; 3) COVID-19 related solutions (for public); contact tracing, etc.; and 4) Cybersecurity / Privacy. Funding for construction-related technology startups increased 56% from 2019. Cybersecurity breach of U.S. governmental agencies called SolarWinds Hack brought focus on the issue. Cybersecurity and blockchain standards are being discussed by various institutions. Virtual communication & collaboration (Zoom, BIM360, etc.), Virtual site inspections, AR/VR, etc.) remained on the same level of interest as in September due to continuous lockdowns and WFH.
  10. In December the interest in Buildings and cities for a next normal has remained on the same level as in September in line with overall dilution of pandemic-related articles. Only Residential buildings and City planning; Smart cities / Infrastructure / Landscape & marine projects have been discussed more than in September. 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 such as Best Architectural Projects of 2020. The community continues to discuss future of the workplace and the office and strategic elements of post-pandemic workplace design; the megatrends reshaping the architecture field and the construction industry; future housing, mobile and modular houses; anti-COVID-19 vaccination campaign buildings; glass skyscraper ban in New York; how has public space changed in 2020 and how will past urban experiments shape the cities of the future; a boom and digitalization of drive-thru restaurants, distribution centers, warehouses and micro-fulfillment spaces; social justice; infrastructure projects and green future related to stimulus bills; real estate design strategies; post-COVID education; successful renovations; and the smart building technologies that can help return trust in spaces and places. Architectural billings in December continue to decline since October.
  11. The volume of discussion about Building operations decreased 30% in December since September (from 5.5% in September to 3.8% in December). Building operations continue to play crucial role in strategies to return occupants safely in workspaces and creating healthier buildings by leveraging buildings to migrate viral transmission and building trust in workplace. Since improving HVAC systems to comply with CDC guidance, new ASHRAE and RESET® standards and other experts can be costly and inefficient (40-70% increase of energy consumption if ASHRAE recommendations are blindly implemented), the community discusses strategic HVAC options and alternatives, such as Air Scrubbing Units (UV-C, CIMR and Killer Filter technologies) to disinfect the air. Instead of large volumes of air at high speed to “well-mixed” air in the room, the experts suggest shift to vertical, low-airflow systems (Displacement Ventilation (DV) or Underfloor Air Distribution (UFAD)), as well as hydronic radiant systems. Furthermore, safe workspace re-entry comes with a unique set of challenges around effective collaboration, security, information management and the technology infrastructure. It includes touchless credentials and thermal and health scanning solutions, that brought privacy and security concerns.
  12. The discussion about Official Strategies / Guidelines // Rules / Regulations remained on the same level as in September (23.6 in December vs. 24% in September). WELL, RESET and Fitwel have been successfully applied in the industry. The community still discusses the need for new building operation standards as the current guidelines are unsustainable; and continues to urge action on healthier policy priorities. Vaccine rollout requires regulatory framework. Vaccine distribution plans vary globally. In the U.S., CDC plan puts essential workers, including construction workers, second in line for COVID-19 vaccine after vulnerable populations and healthcare workers. 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. On the other hand, nuclear and other alternatives & renewables are getting governmental boost as well. Globally city level policies are transforming megacities.
  13. The discussion about future with predictions lessened approximately 30% in December in comparison to September in line with overall dilution of pandemic related discussions. The post-pandemic future has become much closer with the vaccine rollout. December brought predictions about 2021 and beyond. The pandemic has accelerated existing trends, specifically the Great Dispersion. Commuting and business travel will mostly disappear, bringing benefits to climate change fight. On the other hand, the dispersion will bring erosion of empathy and segregation. Accelerated digital transformation is changing the industry from a highly complex, fragmented, and project-based industry to a more standardized, consolidated, integrated and product-based one. The bulk of short- and long-term pandemic-driven construction industry issues will be solved with technology. Real estate will be used differently, more intelligently. Three trends that make us optimistic for 2021: 1) real estate investment realigns to offer can't-miss experiences; 2) people-first design becomes new currency in building communities; and 3) pent-up demand, pandemic startups brighten economic outlook. 2021 will bring a supercharged economy - excess savings have supported households in 2020, and rising wages will boost them next year, with e-commerce exponential growth. By 2025, 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labor between humans, machines and algorithms.

September 2020 Highlights

  1. In September 2020 the impacts of the pandemic continue to be the most important topics in the industry, with climate change and social justice becoming more popular. The communication about the pandemic has “watered-down”; there are substantially less pandemic-only webinars and articles, though almost every publication mentions the pandemic. The industry has been adept to adapt no matter continuously changing and increasing challenges and we are all in a wait-and-see mode. September data shows AEC rebounding globally, more than any other industry. Still optimistic but cautious, we wait for the vaccine rollout. The September trend analysis is based on 513 selected references. The categorization of the observed issues in September remained the same as in previous three months, including 12 categories and 22 subcategories.
  2. We estimate that the industry is communicating and collaborating in September less openly than in August and July due to continuous countless challenges such as competition and labor shortage. The trend we suggested in May that the industry accepted open communication and collaboration as a new normal is less visible in September. The number of Open communication and collaboration mentions was lesser than in August. As predicted in July, mergers, partnerships and acquisitions are on the rise. The number of talks about silver lining continues to decline in September, though industry is taking this crisis as business opportunity. Seeing silver lining is one of the reassessment steps of the remained of 2020 for the construction firms. Other silver lining examples during pandemic expressed in September include medical innovation, collaboration, real-time data, “tail risks”, stress testing, and balance, and greener future potential.
  3. The category of (Advance) planning – short- & long-term strategies is unsurprisingly at its lowest level since April and we do not expect this topic ever to reach the number one position from June 2020. All three subcategories decreased their presence from the August levels. Sustainability/ Green future – opportunity to address climate change is taking the lead among the three subcategories due to climate change fueled disastrous events. Reports showing that our green future is bleaker as our focus shifted on pandemic, and due to governmental stimulus bills (not) addressing our green future. Now is the time to reenergize or reset organizations with resilience and trust being the most important words of 2020.
  4. The category of Procedures of shifting workflows has had again the highest interest in September; taking the number one position for the fifth time in the past 6 months. The owners continue to play wait-and-see game, although the financing is available for the right projects. All subcategories except Remote work (work from home - WFH) have been less discussed in September than in August. Since WFH continues in September there was a slight increase of interest in September than in August. Companies are experimenting with hybrid WFH models for the future and reconfiguring offices. A hybrid approach is the only way going forward for AEC. The discussion about the future of the office continues with experts suggesting that a revolution is better than just adaptation. The interest in Site procedures has been at the lowest level since we started this research signaling that the construction has adapted to the challenges. The contractors are worried about less retail and office construction; increased competition from larger firms; continued pessimism related to new starts and planned expansions; schedule impacts due to health concerns and social distancing requirements, and rising unemployment. They will continue to utilize social distancing and PPE, worker screening, site/tool sanitation and other measures with flexibility and patience. While the U.S. companies expect a slowdown before the election and then a pace pickup no matter who wins, EU construction production is now at its 97% of the February level, and Asia Pacific is fighting to recover from COVID-19; with China as its powerhouse that resumed construction on 90% of key projects.
  5. Health and safety (H&S) have been discussed 20% less in September than in August in line with the overall trend of communication decrease as we know more about the virus and wait for the vaccine. The September discussion focused on symptoms, vaccine race, drugs, flu season, screening and testing strategies, masks, adequacy of specific COVID-19 response and measures, etc. The U.S. contractors continue to report OSHA issuing citations to the companies failing to follow COVID-19 official guidelines. Mental health crisis deepens. Quarantine, unemployment rates, and uncertainties in general are the major causes. Reopening and workplace re-entry are marked with fears of virus contagion. The interest in Management of employees (in crisis) decreased slightly in September, but overall remains on the same level over the past 6 months and it will likely remain an important topic in the future. The pandemic has placed the focus on employees wellbeing, their work-life balance, and many companies devising innovative solutions to accommodate employees’ needs.
  6. The interest in Adoption of (new) technologies has increased 10% from August as digitalization and automation continue to be the most important strategies during the pandemic; and they will permanently continue in the future (e.g., International Code Council (ICC) offers new guidance for remote virtual inspections). In September of the 6 subcategories, two are experiencing interest increase (Virtual communication & collaboration (Zoom, BIM360, etc.), Virtual site inspections, AR/VR etc.) and Other concepts (VDC, management, blockchain, smart contracts; etc.)); while remaining 4 subcategories are showing decline in published volume (such as COVID-19 related solutions (for public); contact tracing, etc.). The focus in digital tech in AEC in September is on automation of data and processes, VDC, drone and robotics application, and continuation of high interest in smart “healthy” buildings, AI, COVID-19 tech solutions, and related cybersecurity and privacy solutions.
  7. In September the volume of the discussion about Buildings and cities for a next normal dropped 44% in comparison to the August levels, in line with overall dilution of pandemic-related articles. The community continues to discuss future of the workplace and the office, and its repurpose post-COVID;  WFH offices; mobile-focused restaurants and outside dining; distribution center and warehouse design; justice, equity, diversity and inclusion; infrastructure projects and green future; educational post-COVID buildings; affordable housing; healthcare facilities that weathered COVID well; successful renovations; future of (healthy smart) cities; and the digital technologies that can help return trust in spaces and places. Architectural billings in September continue to improve. As expected, countless architectural competitions for post-pandemic reality are published. Architects continue to envision and discuss memorials for coronavirus victims.
  8. The interest in Building operations decreased 60% in September. Building operations continue to play crucial role in strategies to return occupants safely in workspaces and creating healthier buildings. The experts use HVAC, architectural, material, and technology recommendations. Enhancement of HVAC systems include air quality (dilution) by increasing outdoor ventilation, disabled demand-controlled ventilation, extended hours of operation and consider pre/post occupancy purge ventilation, provided CO2 sensors in densely occupied spaces; etc. Smart buildings rely on interconnectivity, faster speeds, improved latency for analytical tools, queue management, contact tracing, sensor networks, cloud solutions. The June discussion how “healthy buildings” term temporarily replaced the term “sustainable buildings” continues in September. Both topics should be addressed in parallel.
  9. The discussion about Official Strategies / Guidelines // Rules / Regulations decreased 54% in September. Previously mentioned the first-ever published WELL certification for buildings to address a post COVID-19 environment is showing successful application in public. In previous reports we highlighted RESET® and Fitwel certifications. New building operation standards are required as the current guidelines are confusing and/or contradicting and unsustainable. In September the AEC community continues to urge action on healthier policy priorities in a more organized way such as built environment experts petition to the WHO urging enhanced guidance on the role of buildings (indoor spaces) in addressing COVID-19.
  10. The discussion about future with predictions lessened approximately 60% in September. With still more questions than answers, the community continues to discuss the future of working and living, flexibility of (human-centric) workplace, (repurposed) offices, (multidimensional) cities (and neighborhood systems), infrastructure, climate change consequences, future steps regarding community engagement, future better work-life balance, wellbeing, future of education, etc.

August 2020 Highlights

  1. In August 2020 the communication about the COVID-19 vs. AEC remained on the same level as in July (decrease from June’s peak). This July and August decrease of publications does not mean that the intensity of the pandemic’s impact lessened – quite the opposite. The industry has adapted to the situation and “embraced the growing pains”. The August trend analysis is based on 273 selected references (out of 462 analyzed (mostly) August publications). The categorization of the observed issues in August remained the same as in June and July, including 12 categories and 22 subcategories.
  2. 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 due to reported challenges such as competition, cashflow, backlog and revenue decline, potential litigations, delayed and canceled projects. Mentions of Open communication and collaboration remained on the same level as in July. Our July expectation to see more mergers and partnerships proved to be correct (e.g., in August Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) launched Tech Alliance to aid small, midsize contractors). The talks about silver lining continues to decline in August following substantial decrease in June from May and April. Increase in challenge number and intensity over the past months contributed to optimism decline. In parallel, there is substantial increase in industry taking this crisis as business opportunity with 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.
  3. The category of (Advance) planning – short- & long-term strategies slightly increased its presence in August. The companies (should) have implemented short- and long-term strategies in the first months of the outbreak. The three subcategories remained on almost the same levels of interest as in July. The interest in Sustainability/ Green future – opportunity to address climate change increased in August due to current climate change disastrous events; reports showing that our green future is bleaker, and due to governmental stimulus bills (not) addressing our green future. Will infrastructure survive climate change? Strategies to decarbonize buildings are highlighted. Resilience and trust continue to be the most important words of 2020.
  4. The category of Procedures of shifting workflows had the highest interest in August. The challenges reported in previous months continue to exist in August such as market conditions and issues with cash and working capital, contracting and potential litigations; delayed and/or canceled projects. Although many projects will continue ($8 trillion in capital delivery is expected to continue throughout 2020), and the financing is available, many owners, investors and developers are playing the wait-and-see game. Hence, the subcategory of 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 in comparison to previous months as we all adjusted to the WHF conditions. Workspace re-entry is taking again the momentum. A hybrid approach is the only way going forward for AEC - 100% WFH for AEC is not sustainable in the long run; “approximately 60% of the workforce can WFH”. The interest in Site procedures remained on the same level as in July as all the companies have implemented various governmental requirements for PPE, worker screening, site/tool sanitation and other measures with flexibility, patience and significant effort. Research is showing that the pandemic workday is 48 minutes longer and has more meetings, while COVID-19 protocols led to a 7% financial loss on construction projects.
  5. Health and safety (H&S) have been discussed 15% less in August than in July but overall. The August discussion focuses on vaccine race, drugs, symptoms, masks, adequacy of COVID-19 response, etc. The contractors continue to report jobsite closures due to official guidelines violations and more positive COVID-19 cases on construction sites. Mental health crisis continues to follow the pandemic and it is worsening. Anxiety and depression are caused by quarantine, unemployment rates, and uncertainties in general. Reopening and workplace re-entry are marked with fears of virus contagion. The interest in Management of employees (in crisis) 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.
  6. The interest in Adoption of (new) technologies has decreased 11% from July due to summer slowdown. In contrast, all subcategories (except Virtual communication & collaboration (Zoom, BIM360, etc.), Virtual site inspections, AR/VR etc.) are experiencing increase in published volume. Digitization and digitalization remain mandatory long-term strategies. The trend of accelerated digital transformation since April continues in August. Technological solutions have answers to almost all problems in AEC (e.g., supply chains rely on data-driven approach to demand planning, with automation increasing warehouse capacity without additional hiring, and blockchain application in supply chain helped cut the prevalence of invoicing disputes from up to 70% down to under 2%). Though, global IT budgets are expected to contract in 2021. Cold chain tracking and IoT sensors are vital for success of a COVID-19 vaccine. 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 related cybersecurity and privacy solutions.
  7. In August the volume of the discussion about Buildings and cities for a next normal increased 50% in comparison to July. Architects and urban designers continue to discuss the future of (healthy smart) cities with updated transportation systems, public spaces, and green future (such as strategies to decarbonize architecture and new ways we can live together in nature), (suburban) migrations caused by the pandemic, adaptation of malls into warehouses, equitable community engagement in residential, public and commercial building planning, impact sourcing, hybrid workspace re-entry. Digital technologies can help return trust in spaces and places. The future of architectural education is discussed. Architectural billings in August still show little sign of improvement. As expected, (results of) countless architectural competitions for post-pandemic reality are published. Architects envision memorials for coronavirus victims. Infrastructure projects continue its streak in August after gaining momentum in July due to governmental stimulus bills. Warehouses, data centers and renovations are slightly more discussed than offices and residential buildings.
  8. The interest in Building operations increased 172% in August in comparison to July. Building operations play crucial role in strategies to return occupants safely in workspaces; by leveraging buildings to migrate viral transmission, building trust in workplace, addressing mental health within residential setting, etc. The “healthy buildings” term temporarily replaced the term “sustainable buildings” - indoor air quality has become more important than energy efficiency; though both topics should be addressed in parallel; use the AI-driven tech for building operation optimization and occupant comfort and H&S.
  9. The discussion about Official Strategies / Guidelines // Rules / Regulations slightly increased in August. Previously mentioned the first-ever published 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 of hardware for building operation and policies and practices to mitigate the spread of contagious diseases within buildings. Some US states (Virginia) mandated workplace safety rules in response to the pandemic. New building operation standards are required as the current guidelines are not sustainable.
  10. The discussion about future with predictions remained on the same level as in July. In August 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..

July 2020 Highlights

  1. In July 2020 the communication about the COVID-19 vs. AEC decreased since the June peak. The “red alert” news have become standard news less frequently published. The community has “embraced the pains”. This monthly decrease in COVID-19 publications does not mean that the intensity of the pandemic’s impact lessened. Accordingly, our observations about the pandemic’s impact in July are based on the selected 391 references (34% drop from June). The categorization of the observed issues in July remained the same as in June, including 12 categories and 22 subcategories.
  2. The industry accepted Open communication and collaboration as a new normal during the pandemic. although we estimate that the industry is communicating less openly in July than in June due to reported challenges such as competition, cashflow, backlog diminishing and potential litigations. A mention of Open communication and collaboration decreased 28% since June, but remained 12% above the May levels. In July we identified that acquisitions and collaborative contracts are on the rise in AEC. We can expect more mergers and partnerships in the following months as they lead to more control and better margins. The talks about silver lining have decreased 15% from the June levels; following substantial decrease in June from May and April. As we see the drop in silver lining discussions, we can also observe substantial increase in industry taking this crisis as business opportunity. Service providers in digital technologies continue to lead in this effort. “Never waste a good crisis.
  3. The interest in (Advance) planning – short- & long-term strategies started to decreased its presence first time in 4 months, as the companies (should) have implemented short- and long-term strategies in the first months of the outbreak. The discussion about Sustainability/ Green future – opportunity to address climate change increased in July due to current climate change disastrous events, reports showing that our green future is bleaker as our focus shifted to pandemic, and due to governmental stimulus bills (not) addressing our green future. Resilience may be the most important word of 2020, including flexibility and agility. Impact sourcing is considered as the next IPD.
  4. The category of Procedures of shifting workflows had the highest interest in July. The challenges reported in May and June continue to exist in July with additional numerous issues arising; such as contractors reporting self-policing on site according to health and safety official guidelines (some states in the US are enacting temporary standards), reported site closures due to COVID-19 jobsite violations and COVID-19 positive personnel onsite; market conditions; issues with cashflow and contracting. The key onsite challenges include increased wrench time due to new H&S measures, difficulty sharing information, and lack of on-site field engineers. Offsite manufacturing/ prefabrication is recommended. The community has embraced WFH, starting to implement strategies for workspace re-entry, though 100% of the workforce remotely working is not sustainable in the long run. Trust is the new currency.
  5. Health and safety (H&S) discussions remained on the same level over the past three months. The July discussion focuses on facial coverings / masks, vaccine, etc. The contractors report jobsite closures due to official guidelines violations and more positive COVID-19 cases on construction sites. In parallel, stress related to the pandemic is taking enormous short- and long-term toll on mental and physical health. People have become fearful and frugal. The interest in Management of employees (in crisis) remained approximately on the same level over the past 4 months and it will likely remain an important topic in the future.
  6. The interest in Adoption of (new) technologies has decreased 11% from June. Digitalization remains a mandatory long-term strategy. The trend of 51.9% reported digitalization increase in June continues in July; e.g., the new-project creation rate in Autodesk BIM 360 Design jumped approximately 350% since mid-February 2020. The pandemic sped up digital transformation strategies at 97% of companies. IT experts have become connectors, consultants, teachers and influencers. The focus in digital tech in AEC in July continues to be on smart “healthy” buildings, AI, social distancing tech, and cybersecurity.
  7. In July the discussion about Buildings and cities for a next normal increased 11% in comparison to the June levels. The community continues to discuss the future of (healthy smart) cities with safe commute and green future, (suburban) migrations, public and commercial buildings and outdoor spaces, and office re-entry. The future workplace will embrace a hybrid reality. The results of the first architectural competitions for post-pandemic reality are published. Infrastructure projects gained momentum in July due to governmental stimulus bills. Warehouses, data centers, renovations and public buildings are discussed more than residential and offices. One of the first office buildings with coronavirus-fighting features has been constructed.
  8. The interest for the Building operations decreased in July as the communication about cities and infrastructure projects seems to take the priority. The “healthy buildings” term temporarily replaced the term “sustainable buildings”– though we should work on both topics in parallel and use the AI-driven tech for building operation optimization and occupant comfort and H&S.
  9. The discussion about Official Strategies / Guidelines // Rules / Regulations category increased in July, and we expect this trend to continue. The most important June milestone was the first-ever published WELL certification for buildings to address the post COVID-19 environment. Other organizations are following, such as RESET®, for hardware and building operation certification, that announced advances in sensor-driven index optimizing indoor environments against airborne viral infections. A new building operation standard is required as the current guidance is not sustainable.
  10. The data shows that the discussion about the future of everything increased in July as there are more questions than at the beginning of the outbreak. Our future and future of the planet depends on the green investments and strategies. More focus on society, customers and clients, family, and employees is expected going forward. The future is digital.

June 2020 Highlights

  1. The industry accepted open communication and collaboration as a new normal during the pandemic, although we estimate that the industry is communicating less openly in June than in May due to reported challenges such as competition, cashflow and potential litigations. A mention of Open communication and collaboration increased 42% since May highlighting the importance of “working together to survive”. The global civil rights movement might have influenced this increase. The talk about silver lining has substantially decreased since May (65%); because the industry is less talking about silver lining and more “doing”, i.e., taking the opportunity of the situation. Service providers in digital and virtual technologies are currently leading in this effort.
  2. The category of (Advance) planning – short- & long-term strategies continues to increase its presence over the past three months; from 10% in April, 31.8% in May to the highest category representation of 45.5% in June. The industry realizes that successfully solving temporary challenges will not be enough for the future. Businesses are searching for smart long-term strategies; including reassessment, reimagination and reinvention of all business aspects.
  3. The interest in Procedures of shifting workflows continues to increase (from 41.2% in May to 45.1% in June). The challenges reported in May continue to exist as the economies start to reopen: fluctuating guidance and restrictions, market conditions; issues with cashflow and contracting. Although many projects will continue ($8 trillion in capital delivery is expected to continue throughout 2020); the managers will have to simultaneously protect people, the project, and performance. Furthermore, June is characterized by workplace reimagination and countless strategies and guidelines for workspace re-entry.
  4. Health and safety have been discussed more in June than in May (27.9% vs. 21.8%). This increase in June is due to open-for-interpretation official guidelines; the contractors report self-certification and self-policing and hiring medical professionals for COVID-19 guidance. Mental health crisis is following the pandemic. Consequently, the interest in Management of employees in crisis remained approximately on the same level as in May.
  5. The interest in Adoption of (new) technologies has increased 66% from May. Digitization is a mandatory long-term strategy. The industry is going digital and virtual. The focus in digital tech in June is on smart “healthy” buildings, big data and cybersecurity. 
  6. The interest in Buildings and cities for a next normal seems to slightly decrease in June (from 30% in May to 25.8% in June), partially due to the introduction of two new categories stemming from this category; namely “Official Strategies / Guidelines // Rules / Regulations” and “Building operations”. On June 29, 2020 International WELL Building Institute launched the WELL Health-Safety Rating for all building and facility types; this is the first-ever “evidence-based, third-party verified rating focusing on operational policies, maintenance protocols and design strategies to address a post COVID-19 environment.” We are never going back to pre-corona times. The favorite topics of discussion are the future of work and workplace, healthy smart buildings, the future of living, “smart” cities with infrastructure, and the resiliency and sustainability. All accompanied by countless official and unofficial strategies and guidelines.
  7. The data shows that the discussion about future with predictions dropped 55% in June from May (almost back to the April levels). Industry’s focus is on long-term strategies (for the future) and not on predictions and speculations. Another possible explanation is unprecedented acceleration of events making the predictions from previous month a reality in the current month. The future is here.

May 2020 Highlights

  1.  In comparison to the April results, the industry’s interest in (Advance) planning – short- & long-term strategies has increased almost 400% in May, showing the importance of strategies to “survive and thrive”. Although the communication and collaboration were open in almost 100% of references as in April, this category was mentioned in 7.1% of the references only – as if the industry accepted this type of communication as a new normal.
  2.  The category of Procedures of shifting workflows has the highest total representation of 51.8% in the references in comparison to other categories. This shows that the industry continues to provide its service no matter the cancellations and delays, reported shortage of labor, tensions on construction site, reported decrease of backlogs, and reported slowdowns in design / engineering teams due to WFH and virtual communications.
  3. The Health and safety (H&S) issues have been discussed less in May (27.4% vs. 66% in April) because the organizations have implemented the H&S guidelines as they were rolled out in March/ April. May is marked by the increase of mental health issues due to quarantines and economic downturn. Hence, the interest in Management of employees in crisis has increased 60%.
  4. The discussion about the Adoption of new technologies seems to decrease in May due to emergence of two new categories with high interest: Buildings & cities design for the next normal and  Global socio-economic, geo-political developments affecting AEC (indirectly). The adoption of new technologies was only mentioned as a mandatory step forward in April, while May has brought specialized publications and webinars showing that the industry is starting to learn how to implement “new” technologies. Topic-specific publications allowed us to add subcategories listed above.
  5. The discussion about Buildings and cities design in the pandemic and for a next normal was in more than a third of the references. “Silver lining” dropped from 80% in April to 21.4% in May showing that in May the AEC community is still optimistic about the future but cautious and focused on short- and long-term strategies to survive. The discussion about future with predictions increased almost 300%.

April 2020 Highlights

  1. All selected references are publicly available and free showing that the industry understands the importance of working together to survive the crisis. The expression “We are all in this together” came up in almost all webinars/ interviews. All participants openly communicate (100%) challenges, methods, success stories, and opportunities, mostly filled with optimism and empathy showing the understanding of “silver lining” in the crisis (80%).
  2. The majority (2/3) of the references addresses procedures of shifting workflows in pandemic and health and safety of employees, because the industry is focused on current projects; continuing business while keeping the workforce safe.
  3.  40% of references highlights the impact of adoption of online communication and collaboration technologies, and all agree that the future lies in high-tech (automation, robotics, virtual workflows, new hands-free sensor technologies especially in healthcare).
  4. Advance planning and management of employees in crisis were mentioned in 10% of references only, leaving some questions open such as how many businesses were ready for the pandemic (i.e., had a business continuity plan (BCP) before the crisis) and how the managers are keeping the workforce engaged in a new environment after the initial shock and the transition period. After this crisis, certainly every AEC business will have a BCP.
  5. Future predictions came up in approx. 15% of the documents, mostly specialized articles, showing that in the first phase of the pandemic everybody was busy with the transition/ survival.