remote work covid-19 engineering architecture

How COVID-19 & Remote Work Have Impacted the Architecture & Engineering Industry

The outbreak of COVID-19 has forced industries around the world to either rapidly come to a halt or experiment with new ways of working. Estimates show that 900 million people have been told to stay home, in attempts to curb increasing infection rates. The business sphere has responded by swiftly implementing remote work policies to ensure for as much continuity as possible. 

While many industries find themselves unprepared or unequipped to deal with remote work on a mass scale, architecture and engineering can operate relatively well with employees in different locations. 

Admittedly, shortages in the supply chain (especially from China), temporary stops in production, and the postponement or even cancelation of capital investments has impacted projects. However, by finessing long-term strategies that were already in place, as well as using government aid, there is hope for architecture and engineering to cope amidst COVID-19. 

Utilize prepared workforces

One of the biggest benefits to the architecture and engineering industry in its response to COVID-19 is that many firms are accustomed to doing business remotely. Already, a number of digital softwares are utilized by employees to facilitate the workflow of daily tasks – so the shift to large-scale remote work causes little disruption. 

For example, SOM, one of the largest architecture and engineering firms in the world, has been managing remote teams since the 1980s – it even built the Hajj Terminal in Jeddah using early digital technology, while working across oceans with teams in Jeddah, Chicago, and New York. 

Likewise, because firms are so international, architecture and engineering offices located in China experienced the effects of COVID-19 long before it was declared a global pandemic. Some of these firms were therefore forced to react at the beginning of the year, and as a result, were able to predict the effect on teams in other countries and set protocols in advance. This kind of forward-planning has proven extremely valuable to the industry. 

Despite having offices on multiple different continents, architects and engineers are more connected than ever. Cloud infrastructure, VPNs, and teleconferencing tools allow employees to continue their work smoothly, retaining access to documents, designs, and software licenses. Giraffe Technology is a prime example; the digital platform is where employees can model and design directly on their web browser, plus collaborate with colleagues, automate design processes, and model 3D designs. Such technology, combined with the industry’s existing ability to function remotely, has given architecture and engineering a significant advantage in recent times. 

Reassess industry culture

COVID-19 may be an opportunity to acknowledge the need to slow down and stop producing on mass scales, as well as revise how employees in the industry work. Currently, approximately one in five architects work longer than 50 hours per week, not to mention, there is a strong tendency for all-nighters and high-pressure environments. This unhealthy attitude means that most projects are based on the hours worked, rather than on the finished product. 

The changes imposed by social-distancing rules may provide a way to reassess the relationship between design and working conditions. Moreover, it may help bring to light what works and what doesn’t work in the industry as a whole.

Moving to an output-based economy, as opposed to a time-based economy, could prevent employee burnout, as well as allow architects and engineers to prioritize projects that are for people and not merely aesthetics. Virtual meetings instead of in-person site visits can lower the industry’s carbon footprint, while a new appreciation for spaces (particularly during quarantine) encourages the industry to reconsider how it forms communities and cities. 

As with many other industries, the effects of COVID-19 are likely to raise the question – how can architecture and engineering be more resilient as a whole?

Looking to the future

There is a flow of continuity for architects and engineers that other industries are less fortunate to have right now. However, the industry has been open to adopting digital tools and online practices for considerable time before the outbreak, and for this reason, was better braced for the impact of COVID-19 on business. 

No doubt, tough times are ahead, but if architects and engineers can stay quickly reacting to the online movement, they have a higher chance of surviving. In fact, as the need for hospitals and shelter increases due to the pandemic, the industry can harness the demand and maintain steady business, while making a positive contribution to society.