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Remote working, collaboration and email reliance, and more legal disputes: Covid’s massive impact on AEC

2 March, 2021

The business and technology priorities of the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry have shifted dramatically in the last 12 months. This, coupled with an increase in legal disputes, paints a picture of how the COVD-19 pandemic has transformed how businesses work and their future plans.

Mail Manager’s The 2021 State of AEC Project Management Research Report surveyed more than 500 AEC leaders from the North America, EMEA and APAC regions. It found the biggest impact that the industry has seen as a result of the pandemic is businesses’ technology priorities. This time 12 months ago, remote working barely registered on AEC firms’ key technology objectives, with only 11% of organisations in our 2020 research saying it was a priority. 

But enabling remote working for their employees has now become AEC businesses’ number one technology focus. Nearly three-quarters of AEC leaders (71%) revealed that remote working was a key technology initiative they were considering. This was followed by managing data better (49%), cloud adoption (46%), streamlining processes (45%), mobile connectivity (41%) and cybersecurity (40%). 

AEC industry increasingly relies on email and collaboration

In addition to remote working becoming a major priority, collaboration tools are increasingly important to companies across the AEC industry. This includes the increased usage and reliance on internal collaboration tools and software (55% of respondents), external collaboration tools (30%), BIM tools (6%) and financial software (3%).

In addition, the pandemic has further increased the importance of email for ACE firms. Four-fifths of respondents (80%) reported that email had become at least ‘somewhat’ more important to their organisation in the last 12 months. This included one-third of respondents (33%) saying email had become ‘considerably’ more important or ‘business-critical.’ As a result, email usage has also spiked in the last year, with 80% of respondents saying their email volume had increased at least ‘somewhat.’ 

Despite this increase in importance and usage, employees are still struggling to find the information they need when they need it. The vast majority of respondents (87%) said they were at least ‘slightly concerned’ about project information not being available or visible when they needed it. Of those, 26% were ‘very concerned’ that project information wasn’t easily available to them.

These concerns are coupled with AEC workers increasingly having to discover emails and documents from legacy projects. Nearly half of respondents (46%) said they ‘often’ have to find emails from old projects while one in five (19%) needs to retrieve them ‘very often,’ which was a 33% increase on this time last year.

Failing to deploy tools that make data and email discovery quick and easy runs the risk of important project information getting locked in individual inboxes, especially the inboxes of former employees. This can result in businesses losing project information they may need in the future or employees spending hours manually searching for specific emails and documents, which is a massive drain on productivity.  The increasing importance of remote working and the need to quickly discover historical email data means organisations need to invest in tools that simplify the process and help employees to be as productive as possible

Email struggles compound dispute increases

The research revealed that legal disputes have also increased in volume during the pandemic. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) reported having some form of legal dispute since the start of the pandemic. Of these disputes, the most common reason for disputes was to do with timelines (26%), followed by payment issues (16%) and project scope changes (14%). The information most commonly required to fight these legal disputes was ‘evidence of correspondence,’ which 80% of respondents advised they need to evidence their case. That was followed by contracts (65%), historic project information (59%) and drawing approvals (54%).

The information that organisations need to retrieve in order to evidence their legal cases is increasingly stored on email. More than half of the respondents (52%) said information about scope changes resided within email, compared to 50% this time last year. Furthermore, email remains the most-used project correspondence tool with more than three-quarters of respondents (77%) using the medium for at least 70% of their project communication.

These email struggles are further compounded by historic project information remaining in the inboxes of former employees. Only 52% of respondents said they filed outgoing employees’ emails to make them easily discoverable by current project team members and 17% didn’t know.

Discover all the findings of The 2021 State of AEC Project Management Research Report by downloading the study. And see how Mail Manager can help your organisation to take control of email management and make your documents easily discoverable by signing up for a free trial below.


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