With our usual means of networking suspended indefinitely, including tradeshows and other industry events, we usher in a new digital age.
We were all stunned to learn that NeoCon would be closing for 2020 due to Coronavirus. And AIA, HD Expo, InfoComm, National Hardware Show - the list goes on and on. There was a moment where we all had a collective understanding of just how serious this issue had become. I feel that moment was when the NCAA basketball tournament was canceled. Followed by the NBA season being suspended indefinitely. That was the turning point. Then MLB postponing the season. Las Vegas literally shut down. What in the world is going on? Then it hit our industry. Hard. Now what?
We adapt. Plain and simple. That’s the only way to survive when the market turns, when the way we do business is completely flipped on its head. As most jobs involving architecture and design are considered essential business under provisions pertaining to critical infrastructure, many are still able to work, but in an entirely different capacity. At home. Or at the very least, limited time in the office with additional time connecting remotely at home.
From what we’ve seen so far, Architects are relatively stable, mostly just seeing complications in terms of delays on projects, though some of those have been canceled entirely. Workload is down as is cash flow. Redundancies have staved off to a minimum, reports somewhere in the 1% range, but reported loss of income is up affecting nearly half of all workers. Builders and furniture makers luckily still remain largely unaffected as they are still working on projects that are 3-4 months out, but some are running into issues with material shortages. And those that are working on commercial projects for bars, restaurants, and hotels might see some delays. Some large furniture maker retailers are seeing massive layoffs in the B2C direct to consumer market. That’s now, but what about next month? And the month after that? Things will almost inevitably return to normal, likely with a resurgence of new builds and other activity. Architects and Designers may experience a new workflow though as a result of this experience.
What does this mean for how we operate moving forward? Will tradeshows rebound and return bigger and bolder than ever with a reinvigorated purpose to seek out human connection to build brands? Or will workers become more resourceful with online research and rely less on person to person selling? Designers and architects are still actively purchasing and specifying products, so where will they find them? With no sales or rep meetings, no industry events, that just means our means of communication will ultimately change and ecommerce stores will have to become more self-sufficient to service their customers by providing as much information as they can. Since the building industry remains healthy despite logistical challenges, digital communication is now of the utmost importance. It’s almost as if this was the breakthrough millennials have been waiting for to show off their tech prowess. They got this. It’s up to everyone else to keep up.
Sales appointments will give way to Skype and Zoom meetings. These are great for real time engagement and can be just as productive as in-person meetings. Other online meeting software like GoToMeeting are great for screen share for instructional and informational purposes. And of course email is king. Who talks on the phone anymore? Your cell phone is literally just a camera with social media, internet and games now anyway it seems. And email. Lots of email. Keeping people connected with a digital footprint and paper trail of past conversations for reference and proof of delivery on agreements and negotiations. We already knew that, but it will continue to be our main source of business communication. Speaking of social media, it’s not all just for fun anymore either – our own business is open for all the world to see, and social media outlets give companies a great opportunity to provide a multi-dimensional experience with customers with relatable, human-interest related content. Basically showing their personal side so you can get to know the people behind the companies you buy from, which is important to most consumers now on some level. Now would be as good a time as any to start working on curating your own content and building your following as social media will only continue to grow as an influencer in the buying decision process down the road.
Working “alone” with no supervision requires great discipline. But if you can get focused, you’ll find that added comfort of your own personal environment will really help put your mind at ease. You may even get used to it to the point where you’ll want to continue working from home in lieu of coming back to the office. You’ll need to find a balance though – having at least 1 or 2 days a week in the office minimum is helpful to meet with team members to share updates and discuss projects in more detail, especially visual projects such as designs and models.
Uncertain times are also a great opportunity to work on your own business. When business is slow, rather than panicking, be proactive about growing in areas you’ve been putting off. Think of the opportunity that may come out of it in the end, think of new ways to approach your product or service and how to get it in front of people and serve a need. We are just as tired of social distancing and self-quarantining as the next person, and we look forward to reconnecting with all our friends at the next tradeshow, but in the meantime, we’ll be hard at work on new products and designs to show when the time comes. Good luck, friends. And be sure to follow us on social to see what we’re up to during all this! We’ll be posting content regularly for your enjoyment.