How Covid-19 restrictions are impacting the health, wealth and wellbeing of our architects.

#architects #pandemic #constructionprojects #RIBA

 

Running a business through a pandemic is like fighting with one arm tied behind your back. Buildingspecifier.com’s Joe Bradbury takes a look at how the draconian Covid-19 restrictions are impacting the health, wealth and wellbeing of our architects.

In order for our built environment to meet the needs of its people, we need good architects.

Back in May, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Future Trends Workload highlighted the scale of the impact Covid-19 restrictions were having on business. The showed that:

  • Workloads were at significantly reduced levels – down 33% compared to May 2019.
  • 73% of respondents expected profits to fall over the next 12 months – within that, 8% considered that their practice was unlikely to remain viable.
  • 22% of architectural staff were furloughed – an increase of 8% from April.
  • 1% of architectural staff were made redundant; 1% were released from a ‘zero hours’, temporary or fixed-term contract.
  • 38% of projects had been put on hold since the start of March.

Confidence was certainly at an all-time low. RIBA Executive Director Professional Services, Adrian Dobson said “The current pandemic and economic uncertainty are clearly continuing to impact both architects’ current workloads and their confidence about the future, with the majority expecting their workloads to decrease in coming months.”

A second COVID-19 survey of architects conducted by the institute delved a little deeper into the personal impact of the crisis on architects working within the profession.

These findings revealed the main concerns not just for business but for people, practices and projects:

People

Mental health decline – 40% said their mental health had been affected (a significant increase from 23% in April); 20% felt isolated.

Working location – 74% said they were working entirely from home, a further 10% said they were working mostly from home.

Working from home difficulties – almost a quarter (24%) are caring for others and 13% said they have inadequate equipment.

Reduced income – 56% have reduced personal and/or household income.

Working patterns have changed – 15% said they had been furloughed and 27% said they were working reduced hours. 37% reported finding ‘new and better ways of working’.

Practices

Economic impact – 58% reported fewer new business enquiries, 53% reported a decreased workload and 57% said they were experiencing a cashflow reduction.

Projects

Site closures – 60% said at least one of their project sites had closed.

Widespread project delays – 90% reported project delays, citing parties including clients, contractors, planning officers and building control officers.

Clients responsible for most project cancellations – 48% of decisions to cancel projects were made by the client.

Every cloud has a silver lining

After four months in negative territory, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index rose to +3 in July, from –17 in June. Could this be the early signs of recovery? Obviously it is too soon to tell at present, but let’s take a look at the facts:

Nearly a third (31%) of practices anticipate a workload increase, 42% expect workload to remain the same and 28% expect a decrease.

In July the Staffing Index also rose by 5 points, with 75% of practices saying they expect the level of permanent staff to remain the same over the next three months and 8% (rising from 4%) anticipating the need to employ more permanent staff. Despite this, 17% still expect their staffing levels to decrease over the next three months.

All sectors returned slightly more positive balance figures. The private housing sector rose significantly to +17 (from -3 in June), the commercial sector rose to -15 (from -32), the community sector to -14 (from -19) and the public sector to -4 (from -12).

While there was increased optimism about workloads over the next three months, 62% of respondents still expect profits to fall over the next year and within that, 7% consider that their practice is unlikely to remain viable.

Industry expert and Head of Research, Analysis and Forecasting at National Building Specification (NBS) said “While these findings might show the first glimpse of positivity we’ve seen for a while – with practices seeing a specific increase in private residential enquiries as home working continues – architects still face a particularly challenging market.

“For some, their current workloads mainly consist of pre-pandemic commissions and the source of future work is uncertain. As the UK enters its first recession in 11 years, we can expect further caution from clients to commit to new projects, and confidence in future workloads may be affected.

“It remains our fundamental priority to support our architects through this difficult time with resources and economic intelligence to help overcome immediate hurdles and build future resilience.”

In summary

To date, 998 thousand people across the globe are reported to have died from coronavirus. This figure cannot be fully trusted as not all Covid-related deaths are directly attributable to the virus. (Many people have died from other conditions, tested positive posthumously and therefore been registered as a covid death.) No less heart-breaking – the true figure, which is likely to be less, may never be known.

Isn’t it strange that a staggering 2.8 million people die EVERY YEAR from obesity and yet we don’t go to such drastic lengths to protect these lives?

About 25,260 excess deaths occurred in Great Britain over winter last year, most were in people of pension age. Cold weather is a major contributor to these deaths, but there are a number of causes. Vulnerable people are dying EVERY YEAR from something as simple as not being able to afford their heating bills. How come the government doesn’t step in here?

Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK, with between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year attributed to long-term exposure. There is strong evidence that air pollution causes the development of coronary heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and lung cancer, and exacerbates asthma.

We need to change the way we think about this virus and fast. Around 7.6 million jobs, or 24% of the UK workforce are at risk because of COVID-19-related restrictions. People with the lowest incomes are the most vulnerable.

Self-destruction is the true enemy. There’s a reason why they call it a depression…

As we move into the next phase of the crisis, it is vital that we are safeguarding lives, but we must also safeguard livelihoods.

 

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