Post COVID-19: Defining a New Tomorrow

April 2020 | PRIME

COVID-19 has brought businesses to their knees. No one expected this pandemic to have such a crippling impact on how we operate our daily lives, let alone our business operations. I am inspired by the quick response of my team leaders to keep their projects moving, keep lines of communication open with their clients, and seamlessly work with their teams to keep operations running. It isn’t easy to pivot on a dime, especially when what we are turning to is uncharted territory. But we have to; the entire architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry has to. The professionals who make up the nation’s AEC industry are towing the line together to ensure we move through COVID-19 with little fallout.

That we are all in this together is an understatement in our industry. I’ve witnessed firms supporting each other on intensive brainstorming discussions to work through how business operations might change and or stay the same. ACEC and its state and regional councils have been an incredible support to the entire industry, with frequent correspondence and tools to member firms that provide information on industry happenings, crisis training, federal funding webinars, and other essential information for business operations. Firms that offer business-solution services are hosting free Zoom meetings to provide a platform for industry leaders to talk through issues experienced across the industry from maintaining payroll, to federal support, and everything in between.

COVID-19 is still the big unknown. We all have so many questions: Will the virus fizzle out permanently? Will we go back to life as we knew it before COVID-19, only to experience another wave of shutdowns and illnesses, overwhelming our medical system? One thing that is certain is uncertainty. So, how do we plan for tomorrow when our footing feels like it is on precarious ground today?

Remember the resiliency. This AEC industry is and always will be one that finds ways through difficult situations, even in the face of a global pandemic. We’ve had to adjust staffing and shift priorities, and clients have modified procurement practices and how they complete their work. Remember our recessions, and that with every one of them, we took the hit, adjusted, and kept moving forward. We always rebound, and even in the face of COVID-19’s financial impacts, we will rebound again.

So, what does tomorrow look like for us? I expect that, in time, we’ll get back to our “normal” across the industry, with an emphasis on crisis management. Our proposals and contracts will include this language, and firms that don’t currently offer crisis management as a service will begin developing programs that respond to local and national crisis. For PRIME AE, I expect a powerful shift with employees feeling more engaged with their work, their team, and the firm overall. As with most everyone in this industry, we’ve moved to telecommuting — something that wasn’t our norm prior but that could be an adoptable working situation. Maintaining the business-as-usual approach to our daily work, the PRIME AE staff are hosting department meetings via Microsoft (MS) Teams, some are “having lunch” together on MS Teams, while others are taking time out of their evening schedule to enjoy a “happy hour” together. The togetherness they strive to feel is powerful.

Our industry wants that togetherness and connection too—like we had just two months ago— and I believe we will have it again. COVID-19 does not define us, it has given us reason to pause, to reevaluate processes and business operations, and brings into focus our need to operate as human beings and less like human doings.

Kumar Buvanendaran, PE, is the President and CEO of PRIME AE and actively involved in the AEC industry for 35 years.

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