C+S July 2020 Vol. 6 Issue 7 (web)

Commercial Real Estate & Telecommuting Social distancing and the widespread governmental stay at home man- dates and the overwhelming response of many companies to embrace telecommuting or working from home full time for its employees may have long-lasting impacts on the commercial real estate market. Hav- ing the predominance of a company’s workforce working remotely has been a grand experiment for many operations. However, many compa- nies are finding that, while the challenges have been high, this “new” way of work has not affected their productivity and, in some instances, increases to productivity have been seen. Combine the employee health safety issues with the fact that real-estate costs can be one of the most significant capital expenditures for a business, it is highly likely that many companies are coming to the realization that the amount of their commercial, retail, and office space may not be needed or practical in the future. While most companies will undoubtedly maintain a physical office space, they must now grapple with social distancing in the workplace and dealing with sick employees in perhaps a much more aggressive fashion than previously imagined. For example, testing-tracing-quar- antining is a major workplace challenge that will need to be addressed. The issue of employee health is further compounded by the “open” office space concepts that have recently dominated the design of com- mercial real-estate spaces where customers interact openly, and em- ployees are often working shoulder to shoulder with their coworkers. Given the health and safety concerns, the pressure on reducing capital expenditures, and the large-scale migration of employees from an of- fice environment to a work-from-home situation, the AEC industry is likely to not only see impacts to design and construction projects in the commercial real estate market, but also in the way their offices operate. These dynamics are tricky, but the AEC firms that support this market space should be prepared to help clients redesign and renovate their spaces to accommodate workforce health and safety concerns as companies look to reintroduce their staff to commercial real-estate or office environments. Furthermore, office dynamics may lead to overall streamlining of processes/procedures, back-office support, and person- nel for manyAEC companies in our industry. Finally, the pandemic has highlighted that investments into the country’s digital infrastructure is a wise investment, so we are likely to see further investment in broad- band and information systems. Therefore, innovation and new ways of doing business will play a key role in developing the solutions for the future for both our clients and the AEC industry at large.

Acceleration of Digital Solutions & Technology A common theme or thread throughout this article is the need for the AEC industry to be prepared to look at things in a new or different way. The AEC industry is not necessarily known for its cutting-edge ap- proaches when compared to other industries. However, in recent years the industry has seen dynamic change and growth in digital design, BIM modeling, digital twins, new construction materials and pro- cesses, robotics or autonomous equipment, modular construction, and broader use of automation and artificial intelligence in delivering AEC services. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended or called into ques- tion much of the traditional methodologies that businesses have grown accustomed to. And in time of crisis, such as in wartime or disasters, we have historically seen rapid advancements in new technologies and drastic innovation. The AEC industry is in such a moment. For firms that are looking at what’s next and to the future, now is the time to embrace digital transformation and leverage technological solu- tions that reduce workforce exposure to health and safety and improve efficiencies and quality, while helping to accelerate client’s projects and timelines as they reinvent or retool their business for the future. Firms within the AEC industry who are earlier adaptors to many of the items previously mentioned above are likely to have a tremendous advantage in the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Conclusion The COVID-19 pandemic will drive change and have similar long- term large-scale impacts to our society. However, given the scale and severity of the COVID-19 crisis, it is likely that we may experience deeper and longer change than at any other time in our lifetime. It is critical we begin to think about what the “new normal” will look like, address the market changes seen to date caused by the COVID-19 pan- demic as well as explore the potential challenges and opportunities that face the AEC industry in a post-COVID-19 world.



july 2020

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