Changes in the A/E business

May 04, 2020

“Profound changes are coming to our industry. As is always the case when the external market makes huge shifts, those companies that can adapt will do well.”

This virus will change our business forever. Even when we return to “normal,” we are going to have a new “normal.” It seems apparent at this point that we are going to see some lasting changes in the A/E business by the time the immediate crisis of this pandemic eases.

Here are some of the ways I believe things will change:

  • We are working in ways we thought wouldn’t work and they are largely working. While most companies may have had a few people who worked from home, either on a temporary basis or longer-term, we now have almost everyone working remotely. And for most of the companies I have been in touch with, the new remote work situation has worked out amazingly well. I’m hearing about a few issues related to connectivity, but that is it. I can see that some people will probably never be back at the office on a full-time basis again.
  • We will have new ways of measuring productivity. I don’t think we really have a handle yet on how productive all of these remote workers really are. There will have to be new ways to figure out if people are really working and getting done what they are supposed to. As has always been the case, utilization alone doesn’t tell the whole story. It may not tell you anything beyond someone charged an hour they supposedly worked to a job number. This problem will be exacerbated by not seeing people and what they are doing every day.
  • Individual workspaces will get larger. Office spaces overall may or may not shrink however, because of this lower density. I’m already reading about restaurants, classrooms, and sports facilities reprogramming to have lower density and I’m sure offices will follow. As an owner of office space I will tell you I am less worried now than I was at the start of this thing. Companies may not have as many people in the office but the ones they have will be more spread out and they’ll need more private offices.
  • Work hours will change. With all the remote work being done people can work any time on any day from anywhere. This actually improves the productive capacity of firms. Theoretically they should be able to get more done faster if people can work 24 hours a day. It may create new strains on managers who are trying to keep up with people working around the clock.
  • We will have new internal and external communication methods and channels. This may help flatten organizations and get the rank and file closer to top management. I am hearing many cases of employees communicating with senior managers who are much higher in the organization than they would have been talking to in the past. That is fantastic! If the barriers to communication and information flow through the organization are eliminated, I can’t see anything but good coming from it.
  • We are going to be working on new types of projects and providing new types of services. There will be some major changes in many firms. It won’t be business as usual if you design hotels, retail, offices, sports facilities, restaurants, schools, and more. The needs of these clients to handle the new normal will require many more firms to be doing renovations than ever before. And some of these sectors will be a long time coming back to where they were, so firms will have to find all new markets for what they do. And some firms may find they need services they don’t now have in-house because clients will have new needs for services that A/E firms may not currently have as offerings. There will have to be new needs for better HVAC, security systems, and much more.
  • We may be hiring people in some cases whom we haven’t met face to face or whom haven’t been to our offices. While turnover will go way down and some people may be easier to find, the cost and hassle of in-house interviews could very well just go away in the near future. That sure would speed up the process when job candidates live out of town!

Profound changes are coming to our industry. As is always the case when the external market makes huge shifts, those companies that can adapt will do well. Those that can’t probably won’t do so well.

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.