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March 31, 2020 / Chapter News and Notices

Results of the AIA Baltimore Survey on the Impact of COVID-19 on the Profession

AIA Baltimore launched a member survey on the impact of COVID-19 on the architectural profession and AEC industry in our chapter.  The goals of the survey were to identify the initial areas of impact of the crisis to firms of all sizes and types, and the ways in which our chapter can best respond to provide resources, information, and a supportive network to our membership.

The survey covered areas of legal, finance, employment, remote workplace/internal communications, client management, consultant communication, project progress/contractor communication, small business support, and office operation, as well as useful AIA Baltimore resources, training, and continuing education opportunities.

View AIA Baltimore COVID-19 Town Hall Recording

Of the 80 respondents to the survey, 55% were architecture firms, and 45% comprise other AIA Baltimore Allied Professional Member disciplines including engineers (13.75%) and other consultants (5%), landscape architects (8.75%), building materials suppliers (7.5%) and others. 

Responses from firms and companies of small, medium and large size was fairly evenly distributed, with 30% of firms of over 100 people, 7.5% of firms from 50-100, 6.25% of firms under 10, and 23.74% of firms of 5 and under. This response makes clear that it is vital that AIA Baltimore offer resources geared to firms of all sizes, and especially small firms. 

Ranking Areas of Concern

Of the issues presented for ranking on a scale of 1-10 (10 highest) for urgency affecting practice, most topic ranking averaged in the mid-range 5-upper 6. Individual rankings for topics such as financial issues and employment were ranked at extreme ends of the spectrum, with 9s and 10s common, showing the high concern for impact in these areas.  In most topics, the results indicate that it is too early to fully know the impact. 
The following outlines a sampling of individual responses and questions on each topic:  

Legal


Responses:

  • Our contract obligations for prime contracts but even more the contracts we are not the prime consultants.
  • Contract delays.
  • Liability concerns for employers when employees required to work in the field
  • What employees can or cannot to in an effort to keep production moving. Access to the office for printing, scanning, etc.
  • Claims for vendors, can’t get to job sites.
  • Legal issues have not yet become a concern for my practice.    
  • What do I need to know that I don’t know now?  

 

Finance


Responses:

  • Cash flow in general. I have concerns about doing work and not getting paid. I may request retainers on all work especially on newer clients.    
  • Maintaining cash flow; client’s ability to pay having non-profit clients; paying monthly debts.
  • Interested to hear how the industry is managing cash flow.
  • Our invoicing process will slow down, but we will get invoices out, BUT our concern is how long it will take for accounts receivable to come in.
  • Concerned about clients not reachable, in order to resolve accounts receivable.
  • As a one-person firm, who has worked on building up the backlog of invoices and fees, am worried that my firm is going to see a big lag on previous payments, as well as a future lag in payments on the work that we are currently doing.
  • Client is hard hit and scaling down projects.
  • I am concerned clients will put projects on hold (as well as payments to my firm).
  • Predictions as to whether will projects continue or come to a halt as in 2008? many of ours were already on hold and unlikely to restart now.    
  • Concerns over project continuance and keeping staff employed/payroll.
  • What do AIA indexes look like for projecting the future?
  • How can the A/E industry sustain itself during this unknown length of time?
  • The threat of construction projects shutting down will affect finances greatly.
  • We have had a few projects put on hold. 

 

Employment


Responses:

  • Job Security, I am EP and I feel like they might cut my hours and/or salary.
  • What impact on the sky rocketing unemployment rate have on the construction industry? Short term and long term?
  • We know the importance of our people and are making every effort to support and keep them. But the uncertainty of uncertainty – we all do projections – but these times have put a new wrinkle on the longevity and probability questions of new work and work shifting from design to construction and continuing to proceed ahead.
  • How long do we wait to furlough or lay off some of our staff.
  • What does the employment outlook for recent graduates? Will there be jobs so hours can be earned to count towards licensure?
  • Concerned over keeping staff employed
  • Maintaining our quality staff
  • Shouldn’t the design community stay full capacity?
  • How can we maintain the staff we have during this unknown length of duration pandemic  
  • How are firms approaching new hires in the next 6 months? Are they instituting hiring freezes, or continuing to conduct interviews and offer letters in anticipation of when the emergency lifts?
  • The last recession was traumatic. What if anything can we do to prepare for the impending one now? 

 

Remote workplace/internal communications


Responses:

  • We are working well remotely, but am not sure how long that can be the case.  
  • Lack of Office Culture and Daily Structure
  • My firm was very hesitant to start this process. How can we convince firms to invest in this or see that teams can work efficiently while working remotely?
  • We have a great WFH communications plan for our staff and it’s working well; lots of room for business and fun (#WFH_pets is one channel very popular on Slack right now for us.) As things develop we are working to address the emotional well being of our staff as well with programs to help that as WFH conditions go from new to normal. Socializing distances while social distancing!
  • Our firm has been working remotely for almost two weeks. So far it’s working quite well, although the ‘bandwidth’ is full and computers are slower….at times MUCH slower
  • We do this already to a large extent so not a great concern
  • Being efficient and having the best platforms to work remotely    
  • What systems are companies using – MS Teams, Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, etc.
  • With prior planning our remote workplace and communications are working out very well
  • What are the Pros and Cons of Remote Work in design?
  • How to manage communications, particularly projects involving security issues in a remote fashion?    
  • Despite good communication tools and infrastructure, employee’s home internet service and individual learning curves create considerable inefficiencies.
  • Not so much for my team. It’s communication with other firms.
  • Loss of productivity resulting from emergency on boarding of new software and protocols. 

 

Client Management


Responses:

  • We are trying to communicate with our clients, BUT their replies are much slower.
  • difficult to adequately read situations and reactions without direct face time with clients
  • Communications with some of our clients is challenging
  • Are Virtual Meetings filling this gap during Social Distancing?
  • Meeting/explaining things properly with clients could be difficult.
  • We have concerns about not being able to have face-to-face meetings [thinking online won’t be as effective].
  • They have migrated to a digital platform with us, but worry about the long-term effect on our relationships
  • Long distance social distancing…should be the norm
  • What are firms doing to present to clients when in person meeting is not an option and team members are working from various locations?

 

Consultant Communication

 
Responses:

  • Not an issue as connecting remotely via zoom
  • Other than full band width slowing allied consultant’s communication, we are still getting work DUN !    
  • We do this remotely already to a large extent so not a great concern    
  • Consultants also able to work remotely, so far not a big concern
  • How to ensure communications are received and acted upon?
  • Hands on materials for vendors…
  • Consultants are operating at various levels of efficiency depending on their readiness to work remotely.  
  • Will these new inefficiencies impact project delivery schedules? Will this reflect poorly on Architects? 

 

Project Progress/Contractor Communication


Responses:

  • How do we deal with site visits and / or construction coming to a halt?
  • Although construction continues here in Maryland, there is reduced staff and we are not always able to communicate with the same people we communicated with a few weeks ago. this means there is a learning curve for the construction personnel we were tied to previously.    
  • Progress continues but cannot assess situations with groups in the field    
  • Interested in how contractors are dealing with communicating especially during CA    
  • Project progress and communications going well at this time    
  • How is everyone functioning on a daily basis? What kind of project delays is everyone anticipating, in light of Construction falling under “essential business”?
  • Projects under construction are currently moving forward, while anything involving a permit review is slower    
  • It may be more difficult to visit the construction sites.    
  • Contractors have had lags in communication – not being up front about their questions and concerns. And only involving design team/subconsultants at the last minute rather than keeping them in the loop from the beginning to be able to pull strings when needed.    
  • A lot of our work is on-site field inspections, and we are concerned about how to get the work done safely and effectively.
  • Those are established relationships so they translate pretty well    
  • Expecting most design project schedules to slow down, and lower priority projects to go on hold indefinitely.
  • Already practicing long distance communication with builders, nothing new here    
  • How long will projects proceed and project funds be available for publicly funded projects
  • So much of this process has moved online however, are firms still holding on-site progress meetings? A trailer is too cramped for social distancing. 

 

Small Business Support


Responses:

  • How will our State and Local governments navigate through the federal stimulus programs and deliver resources to our industry.
  • Finally the Feds (if CARES passes the house) are providing support. How long can it last?  
  • I would like to know what funds might be available to my small firm at this time.
  • Rated at 8 since we aren’t in urgent need today, BUT we will be in about two weeks.    
  • Is there such a thing as small business support other than the AIA providing support such as this town hall and survey?
  • What small business support?
  • Looking at State and Federal relief funds    
  • Concern for small clients that owe you money. Payment risk?    
  • No issues with small business support    
  • What is the expected impact on small business?
  • How can a small firm weather this?
  • My company has a dell small business account manager and he has been super helpeful. Especially when it comes to better pricing, and also being transparent about lead times on certain technology products.
  • What state/federal programs exist to support liquidity of small business for meeting existing pay obligations while cash flow may stall? 

 

Office Operations


Responses:

  • All household members are Telecommuting, which adds stress to juggling work with family
  • What happens to the non-architecture-related personnel like our front desk receptionist – is their job at risk given the current situation – how to mitigate?
  • Obviously, slower without the opportunity to have face to face conversations.
  • Amazon doesn’t prioritize delivery of computer and office equipment. that’s a big problem when these things need to be replaced. 1 month wait for delivery. 
  • Office running smoothly with prior planning
  • What is different with everyone working online?
  • Would like to get a measurement of function. How disruptive has this been and how is it impacting firms? 

 

AIA Baltimore resources, training, and continuing education opportunities


Responses:

  • Collaborative Rethinking of Architecture’s future post COVID-19 with constituencies (AIA, AIAS, ACSA, NOMA, NCARB, NOMA) so that we do NOT go back to “business as usual”
  • Small businesses are getting killed by bigger firms not providing them adequate opportunity to grow. direct contact with decision makers and marketing heads at firms would be very helpful. 
  • Would like to hear more feedback as to how we can best assist the Architectural/Design communities on a daily basis during this time? What is helpful to them? CEU, Virtual Presentations, none of these    
  • Virtual study sessions for ARE preparation 
  • Online Credit
  • AIA contributions and suggestions for economic recovery in Baltimore