February 2021

2020 was challenging in ways none of us could have foreseen a year ago. Today, most architecture, engineering, and environmental firms can look back with some pride at how they survived—or even thrived (in some cases with the support of PPP funds and reduced expenses)—through a remarkably tough year. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and arguably, many firms are stronger and more resilient today than ever before.

Having learned lessons from 2020 is valuable, but strategic planning is about looking ahead, and as we consider what’s in front of us for 2021 and beyond some things are finally coming into sharper focus:

  • Clients and markets are settling down. After the initial shock of pandemic-driven shut-downs and the prospect of drastically reduced funds, clients still have needs for services that are comparable to a year ago, albeit with shifted priorities.
  • Firms are settling down. While the balance between remote work and office work is still a moving target, firms are generally gravitating toward a hybrid approach trying to capture the best of each.
  • There is a light at the end of the tunnel. The availability of vaccines will likely mean that at some point, hopefully by mid-year, many aspects of business and life can return to something resembling “normal” which will propel the economy, refresh our industry, and provide a tremendous morale booster for everyone.

Nobody is contending that we will return to the good old days. A recent McKinsey article entitled The Next Normal Arrives notes that we are on the cusp of events in this way:

“2021 will be the year of transition. Barring any unexpected catastrophes, individuals, businesses, and society can start to look forward to shaping their futures rather than just grinding through the present. The next normal is going to be different. It will not mean going back to the conditions that prevailed in 2019. Indeed, just as the terms “prewar” and “postwar” are commonly used to describe the 20th century, generations to come will likely discuss the pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 eras.”

The horizon is out there, closer than it has been for a year and almost within reach. Now is the time for firms in our industry to contemplate their new futures, consider what it will take to succeed, and develop a new strategic planning roadmap for the post-COVID-19 era.

After having navigated your firm day-by-day through the past year, changing your perspective to look further ahead isn’t easy. If you have thoughts about this, I’d love to hear from you at rkogan@kogancompany.com.