How have principals been managing their time differently since the pandemic?

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By Tyler Thompson

Zweig Group surveyed 142 principals since January 1st of 2020 for its recently released 2021 Principals, Partners & Owners Report of AEC Firms. Using data collected before and after the start of the coronavirus pandemic allowed for key breakdowns between the time frames throughout the report: “Pre-COVID” and “COVID” eras.

Perhaps the most interesting breakdown of this kind came when analyzing time management of principals before and during the pandemic. Principals spent less time at the office or on the road and more time at home due to stricter travel policies. Their firms may have had layoffs or restructuring of organizational structure as well due to financial stress. Modifications to their work schedules were inevitable and this report highlights those changes.

Chargeability among AEC principals in the report was at a median of 30 percent. However, when looking at the time frame breakdown, there was a 10 percent increase in chargeability from the pre-COVID era (25 percent) to the COVID era (35 percent). When asked to break down their workday, the 8 percent increase in design/technical activities from the pre-COVID to COVID times supports that jump in chargeability.

Time spent on firm management took the biggest hit because of the increase in time spent on design work, falling from 41 percent in the pre-COVID period to 36 percent since that point. Time spent on all other activities, including leadership/mentoring, project management, and marketing/business development, stayed about the same. However, these principals said they would have ideally liked to spend more time on leadership/mentoring and marketing/business development in both the pre-COVID and COVID periods. 

Lastly, despite working the same number of hours per week before and after March of 2020, principals took less paid time off (PTO) than they are accustomed to in the pre-COVID era. Principals are typically allowed between 20 to 30 PTO days per year (median of 25 PTO days). Before the start of the pandemic, principals would take about 80 percent of their allowed PTO. Since then, principals are taking just 67 percent of that allowed PTO, about four days less than in previous years. As travel policies loosen back up and PTO carryover plans remain in place, principals should be back to their normal PTO usage in due time.


Tyler Thompson is the Research Manager at Zweig Group. He can be reached at research@zweiggroup.com.

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