Onwards and Upwards

By Christy Zweig Niehues

The past year and a half has been a time of transformation for the AEC industry – we’ve all adjusted to new scenarios in the way we work, develop business, and manage and lead projects and people.  The work engineers do in shaping the built environment is not exempt from this – new technology and new needs from the population have also ushered in what will be a new era for design. We’ve covered some of these amazing projects in this issue – check out methods of vertical construction in the Middle East – and others such as Washington DC’s first mass timber overbuild project and the Salesforce Tower in Chicago.

One of these big changes and one of the most controversial topics right now is centered on remote and flexible work policies.  Zweig Group’s most recent survey, AEC Workplace of the Future, found that on average, just 47 percent of a firm’s workforce is back in the office full time – but those who are working in the office vs remote are becoming an increasingly homogenous group.  More men than women are back in the office (54 percent vs 41 percent), and there’s a straight-line correlation between age and work preference – 72 percent of individuals aged 65+ are in the office, but just 17 percent of those between the ages of 25 and 34.

Feelings of productivity were also heavily impacted by the work situation.  Those working remotely were seven times more likely to say they felt more productive than pre-pandemic when compared with those working full-time in the office, and 4x more likely to report feeling “more creative and motivated.”

Firms looking to alter their policies need to do so carefully – 20 percent of Zweig Group’s survey respondents said they would consider looking for a new job at a different firm in order to retain their ability to work remote, and 10 percent of respondents said they would consider leaving the industry in order to keep this option.

It’s clear that remote and flexible work policies are creating more than just a cultural divide in the AEC industry – diversity and the long term viability of firms in our industry is going to be dependent on firm leaders making choices that both support building community, culture, and teamwork among their employees, as well as supporting their desire for workplace flexibility and remote options.

With recruitment and retention remaining one of the top challenges for firm leaders, and the vast majority reporting record backlog and demand for their firm’s services, it’s going to be more important than ever to maintain creativity and productivity among every single person working in the AEC industry.  Although it’s harder to track than simple utilization rates, as an industry we need to find ways to assess and reward innovative ideas, efficiency, and the other intangibles that lead to great design and a positive work environment. After all, these are the things that make people want to enter (and remain) in this industry, and ultimately produce work that makes our world a better place and take our industry to new heights.   

Christy Zweig Niehues is director of Research & ECommerce at Zweig Group. She can be reached at czweig@zweiggroup.com.