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COVID-19’s Impact on the AEC Industry

In the second edition of the CSI Discussion Forum, Mark Dorsey, chief executive officer of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), moderated a discussion with three panelists: Erica Kennedy of ODA architecture, William Sundquist of Whitacre Greer, and Andrea Zawodny of HOK.

The discussion focused on how the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is impacting the AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) industry, as well as what future changes panelists see as it relates to their practice and trends in the industry. The following is a snapshot from the discussion.

Erica Kennedy: Typically, we do a Monday morning management meeting. But with everything changing so quickly and everyone working remotely, we had to move to Monday, Wednesday, Friday so we can collaborate and still see each other. Sixty percent of our work is hospitality, and obviously that has been hit really hard. We have created a task force and are calling it T-A-S-C, which stands for a tactful approach to sustainable cleanliness. We’ll also be sending out a newsletter and keeping all the information we collect, along with the changes we’ve seen so far with ODA.

William Sundquist (WS): We’re on the manufacturing side, and the state we’re in shut facilities down for over a month. Not only did we experience a shutdown in production, we also experienced new social distancing requirements for employees and the sequencing of materials. The biggest challenge is going from a 12-month manufacturing year down to a 10-month manufacturing year and keeping everybody supplied with product.


Mark Dorsey (MD):
What are some of the most significant changes you have seen?


Andrea Zawodny (AZ): The sourcing of materials has suddenly come up on a project we’ve been informed has zero flow time in the schedule, and we have to get products right away. The original thought from the owner was that we have everything made in the United States. Unfortunately, just because something’s made here, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have components from overseas. The flip side is there are a lot of things that are made overseas that are stocked here. Being flexible is key to finding comparable products.

WS: This industry was pretty linear in its thinking as to what needed to be done to execute from A to Z, and the definition of essential became part of the mainstream lexicon. I found out everyone has a different definition of what essential means. I had a project where our state was shut down and people in the other state were still working. They said, “What do you mean I can’t get samples? Our industry is essential.”

MD: What changes are you seeing in terms of being able to present product?

 

AZ: What we have been seeing with interiors is that there are finished boards and samples that are put together and actually shipped to a client. We can get online and show you first, then ship the samples to a client to make sure it looks like what they thought it looks like and can sign off on it. Unfortunately, on some of the larger projects, there’s more than one client who needs to sign off on it.


MD: What kind of changes do you see happening to your business practice?


AZ: More sharing of spaces once everybody is comfortable with that, so we can rearrange furniture and keep that physical distance. I’m hearing people are much more productive from their home, because they can have the freedom to work at different times of day. I think that’s something to consider as firms really hone in on what is comfortable for each individual.


WS: There’s going to be a huge leap from the technology side. I had some distributors sending me links to beta sites for selecting products and more online shopping as it relates to building materials. That excites me because I think we’re going to embrace technology in a way this industry probably should have done sooner.

 

For more information and to listen to the entire conversation, contact: CSI, www.csiresources.org.

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