by James McManus
The year 2020 is one best forgotten. We have experienced unprecedented economic turmoil, a disastrous pandemic costing hundreds of thousands of lives and a toxic partisan political campaign. Our country seems to have lost its way. We have been separated from loved ones. The travel, retail and entertainment industries have been all but shut down. Some refused to acknowledge the serious threat to society resulting in a crisis in the health care industry.
On the other hand, we are remarkably adaptable, and we continually learn and adjust. Perhaps through it all we have made progress.
Since we have been unable to travel, we have learned to communicate in new ways. The idea of video conferencing has been slowly developing for years. Some firms had become fluent in its use. When faced with the inability to travel, video platforms suddenly became an important part of our lives. We needed them for work, shopping, and social activities. Providers of the service jumped into high gear improving and distributing their products. They became amazingly simple to use. The implementation curve accelerated dramatically.
Some people routinely “shopped by mail.” Suddenly we were dependent on it as stores closed and reduced their hours or capacity. Internet retail and grocery delivery took off and is now commonplace. In my neighborhood, dozens of small panel trucks roam the streets seven days a week delivering groceries, appliances, and all the necessities of life.
Restaurants, unable to serve meals indoors, reverted to outdoor seating, curbside delivery, and take-home meal kits. They continue to struggle with limited capacity, and many will fail.
Organized sports play to empty stadiums and games are frequently cancelled or rescheduled. Only a complete control of the virus will permit us to fill stadiums and arenas.
Early in the pandemic, construction came to a halt. It was short-lived and soon every part of the industry was back at it. Construction sites developed innovative safety measures; designers learned to work from home and found they were sometimes even more productive than in the office. Again, technology that was slowly evolving quickly became essential. Vendors stepped up and adjusted their products for ease of use.
On site observation by architects and engineers became impossible, so alternatives needed to be developed. Today, architects keep live webcams active at their workstation. Contractors can beam photographs back to the office using drone technology. Digital communication makes the process more efficient, if not as personal as in the past.
The overall economy was devastated as millions lost their jobs, businesses closed, and normal life came to a standstill.
The health care industry finally began to get ahead of the curve. New treatments were developed to help reduce the mortality of the virus. Fast expansion of facilities provided more capacity.
We will begin 2021 with a public health disaster, but with the knowledge that effective vaccines are coming in the short term. Together, with better understanding of the virus and new treatments, we will turn back and control the threat. The economy will rebound as more and more companies find better ways to cope with the disruption they experienced. The likelihood of new government spending on infrastructure, green industry, re-training and personal assistance grants promise for a strong rebound in the year to come.
While not everyone will recover from this disruption, innovators will take advantage of new methods and create entire new ways of doing business. In every industry, survival techniques will lead to the development of more permanent lines of service that will remake society going forward. By focusing on solutions to global problems of climate change and economic inequality, we will again demonstrate the resilience that has produced the greatest country in the world.
James McManus F.A.I.A., is the chairman emeritus of The S/L/A/M Collaborative and SLAM Construction Services. He is among the founding members of the Construction Institute and currently serves as the chair of its Senior Industry Advisory Group.