Pulse Check No. 3 - Preliminary Findings

9 June 2020

The preliminary findings of the ACA Pulse Check No. 3 are out now.

Concerns about workflow continue, but some projects have restarted and JobKeeper payments have enabled many practices to keep staff on. Mental wellbeing results are positive overall, although the toll on senior management is starting to show. Practices are returning to the office and considering how their working processes and arrangements will change. There is a strong sense that the Federal government stimulus package is inadequate and poorly directed.

Conducted between 31 May–3 June 2020, the ACA Pulse Check No. 3 builds on the knowledge developed through the first two Pulse Check surveys to create longitudinal knowledge and to better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on architectural practices. Together, the surveys inform ACA advocacy and the material developed to support members and the wider profession.

The survey was answered by 453 practices, employing over 4,520 full-time equivalent (FTE) ‘technical’ staff, and over 600 FTE casual technical staff. More than half of the practices (60%) are very small businesses, employing 5 people or fewer. The survey also has good representation from larger practices. Practices from New South Wales and Victoria comprise 67% of respondents.

Key findings

  • Work pipeline
    There is widespread concern about the pipeline of work, with only 17% of practices indicating that they have enough work to see them through to the end of the year and 37% of practices being short of work right now.
  • JobKeeper payments
    JobKeeper has been beneficial on the whole, enabling many practices to keep staff on. Many respondents called for this to be extended after September.
  • Delays and cancellations
    Many practices are still facing project delays and cancellations; however, 24% of respondents have also had projects restart, and another 23% anticipate project restarts shortly. The approximate value of projects cancelled within the 200 responding practices that supplied data was $1.8 billion, while the value of projects on hold in 224 practices totalled $3.3 billion.
  • Stimulus
    There are many concerns about the Federal Government stimulus package. Respondents do not think it will assist architects, nor will it have effective outcomes. There is a strong sense that stimulus funding should be spent on community and social infrastructure – social housing, education, healthcare, infrastructure and community development projects – which will bring long-term benefits to all. Respondents also recommended fast-tracking approval processes and bringing projects forward.
  • Productivity
    Productivity is improving overall, with 28% of respondents having already returned to pre-COVID-19 productivity levels, while a further 35% are expecting to recover fairly or very quickly. Worryingly, 13% expect a slow return, while 5% do not anticipate ever returning to pre-pandemic productivity levels. A small number of respondents (44) indicate that productivity has increased in this period.
  • Wellbeing
    Responses to questions about mental wellbeing are quite positive, with a high proportion of practices rating the mental wellbeing of the practice and people fairly highly or neutral. Of the responding practices, over half have processes in place to support wellbeing, while another 20% are looking into it. These results align with anecdotal evidence that the pandemic period has seen a concerted effort by practices (both leaders and employees) to prioritise mental wellbeing.
  • Employment arrangements
    There is still a great deal of uncertainty for employees. Over the 163 practices that answered questions about staff changes, a total of 657 employees had had their hours reduced, 118 employees have been stood down and 166 have been made redundant. In addition, 91 contract workers have been stood down or made redundant. This means over 1,000 employees have had their hours and income affected in the responding practices. The overall numbers of employees within the profession are likely much larger.
    Employment arrangements have been changed by 22% of respondents, with another 18% expecting that they will need to do so. Reduced working hours is the most common tactic already being used.
  • Returning to the office
    Returning to the office is the next challenge. A majority of practices have already reopened office premises, although this varies significantly by location – as would be expected given the different levels of government restrictions and advice. Smaller practices are also more likely to already be open – 70% of practices with 5 or fewer people, as compared to only 17% of practices employing 50 people or more (numbering only 3 practices). This is not surprising, but it does point to the very different circumstances faced by practices of different scales.
  • Flexible futures
    The abrupt changes to working arrangements during the pandemic have introduced many practices to working flexibly and remotely in extreme circumstances. There is widespread discussion across industries and sectors of the positive gains that might be taken from this. This is also apparent within architecture and the respondents to this survey. More than half indicate that there are aspects they will bring forward, while another 22% are not yet sure what the impacts will be. A return to previous arrangements is forecast by 24% of respondents.
    Patterns differ according to practice size. A huge 94% of practices employing over 50 people see the potential for positive change, with only one practice of this size intending to return to previous arrangements. Among the small practices (5 or fewer people), 42% of respondents (100 practices) identify positive change, while 30% expect no change and the remainder are uncertain. Among those of mid-size, 68% (92) are looking to make changes and 13% (18) aim to return to how things were before the pandemic.

The results

Access the preliminary results via the links below:

Part 1: Demographics, working arrangements, productivity and mental wellbeing

Part 2: Work pipeline, revenue, government support and employment

Part 3: Returning to the office