2021 Construction Predictions: Insights From the ZELUS Team

  • January 25, 2021

The construction industry, as well as many other sectors, witnessed dramatic changes over the last year. As challenges emerged, companies and entire industries pivoted, evolving to meet new and necessary demands. But as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of innovation, and we saw our industry adopt and adapt to new innovative technologies like never before –– a trend that will only continue to grow through 2021 and beyond. 

This year has the potential to be more transformative for the construction industry than ever before as we not only embrace, but actually become drivers of digital transformation to pave the way for a more agile and data-driven way of working.

As we look at the year ahead, we asked members of the ZELUS team to share their top construction trends and predictions on how the industry will transform in 2021 and beyond.

Randy Marks, Director of Operations
Commercial renovation will rise by 10% in 2021, with a focus on utilizing office space more effectively and an increase in overall storage/shipping facilities. Residential construction will also increase by 10% as people transition to more remote working policies. Overall, I believe commercial construction will take a slight decline in the first half of 2021 and rebound in the latter half of the year.

Ted Mort, CIO
Companies will begin preparing for a portion of their teams to physically return to the workplace. However, I believe we’ll continue to see a hybrid of remote efforts continue more permanently. This will require significant effort toward reno/retro of existing spaces as the ‘open office’ concept that’s been so popular is no longer a safe environment.

I’d expect large corporate offices to re-emerge, but fragmented into satellite or co-working spaces spread throughout the country. Enough time has elapsed over the last year of remote work to condition the workforce to expect some level of flexibility when considering their workplace. Employees who are no longer attached to a physical office have left the locked-down coastal cities and are finding a better quality of life inland. Employers are recognizing that they don’t need to be located in high-tax metropolitan centers to gain access to the workforce they need. However, the workforce is beginning to yearn for some physical peer interaction and to gain some escape from their kitchen and living room offices. Combine those realities with a general consensus that remote work techniques are relatively effective, but still not as successful, and we’re going to drive the need for smaller and diversified office locations.

Virtual design and construction (VDC) will solidify its place in the construction process. Any remaining concern about the sustainability of VDC and BIM (Building Information Modeling) within the construction process has been dissolved. Remote virtual construction teams are empowering builders to reduce headcount on site (lowering their risk of illness breakouts), laying the groundwork for increased prefabrication and modular building techniques. VDC is here to stay.

Ron Nauta, VDC Manager
I strongly believe that prefabrication will take a firm hold on the construction industry in 2021, mainly in response to the impacts of COVID-19 and the need for contractors to start managing projects with resources both on and off site. Overall, companies have been forced to rethink their business operations in the long term. In parallel, I think this will drive more consulting and staff augmentation opportunities to support businesses in achieving this level of build-out.

Randy Clarke, Regional Acquisition Manager (Albany, NY)
I believe we’re on the edge of a significant embrace of 3D modeling and BIM services, from not only our established users and industries but by new sectors, especially as society adopts greater technology. The new “normal” of social distancing and pandemic precautions are going to lead other industries to take a hands-off or limited-touch approach to construction processes. I have personally seen other industries show awareness of 3D modeling, BIM, and VDC services but haven’t yet utilized them, albeit they have been interested because of the techniques and the potential.  

Jeff Querrey, Sales
This is the year BIM will go mainstream. On the heels of what happened in 2020, this year is the turning point. The efficiency of building a virtual project before constructing it in real life generates more time, cost, and collaboration benefits than can be ignored. Owners, architects, builders, and contractors are going to get on board more than we’ve ever seen.

Laura Newbrough, Human Resources Director
I think companies will embrace the hybrid work-from-home model, making services like cloud-based virtual design and construction (VDC) and data sharing more appealing, as it eliminates things like travel and in-person verifications. On the retail side, retailers like movie theaters will step up their game, providing new models and service offerings. 

Because of more hybrid models, I think that small- and mid-size cities will see more growth, development, and housing booms as people move out of larger cities causing housing plateaus in larger metro areas. Those moves will then have a trickle-down effect on commercial/retail space, distribution, logistics, infrastructure, and more. Ultimately, there will be greater investment in the up-and-coming cities.

Norma Andrade Drake, Production Manager
My single biggest prediction for 2021 is a demand and need for elevated virtual and remote real estate services and the technology to achieve those services.

I believe this will be the case for not only commercial dealings but residential as well. As it relates to the services ZELUS provides, this means a demand for virtual tour products, and supporting services that facilitate real estate transactions through online means. Companies like Opendoor are disrupting the residential real estate process and I think commercial real estate companies have to revamp their technology to keep up with technological trends.

The use of these virtual services can aid commercial real estate companies rise in the remote world. Attaching BIM and VDC services to commercial property packages may help generate more interest and make properties more attractive to buyers, as well as give a leg up to the real estate company that offers these virtual and collaborative products, as they often serve the entire lifecycle of a property.

Dylan Thorfinnson, Translation Manager
One of the major trends I foresee is that more companies will continue to adopt the work-from-home model to help cut costs. This will leave previously occupied commercial space vacant and primed for repurposing or adaptive reuse.

The second trend is that traveling and physically being present for site walks in AEC industries will be substituted for virtual tours and meetings. This is where services such as BIM and VDC will become major factors to industry success. 

Matt Noakes, Assistant Project Manager
As we all know,  the remote-work culture has been growing in many industries over the last few years, but when the pandemic forced countless businesses into a sudden remote-work format, the world began to shift to this mode of operating.

This shift resonates in perfect harmony with the state of the times and the younger generation’s relationship with technology. While today’s youth are well connected to larger networks through social media platforms, they have less experience in face-to-face interactions and they may not naturally gel with going into an office to work. If this phenomenon proves true, companies will adapt to this standard and we will see new college grads going straight from Zoom-courses to Zoom-career. One highly valuable element that could easily be lost in the remote-work world is office culture. Curating a productive yet happy office culture is a difficult task and we may see the need for more cultural infrastructures woven into training and day-to-day tasks.

People will continue migrating away from cities to avoid higher costs and social unrest, as long as they can work remote. Therefore, corporations will rely more and more on outsourcing their work. Additionally, corporations will also continue migrating to states with lower corporate taxes until all the space is tapped.

Ken Smerz, CEO
The shift to virtual design and construction will have long-lasting and pervasive impacts. That trend has held steady forcing the closure of brick-and-mortar big-box retail and spurring the demand for consumer goods distribution centers. This will present opportunities for new large-scale construction projects as well as adaptive reuse projects, which will become more prevalent than ever.  For example, one of the most interesting adaptive reuse use cases over the course of the last year has been turning vacant retail spaces into “micro-clinics,” thereby localizing healthcare in neighborhoods.

But as these technologies emerge and become more commonplace, we may experience a significant skills gap in managing construction projects. As the need for experienced technology professionals grows in the construction trade, the potential for a skills gap also grows. I predict we’ll see the nexus of this issue in 2021, especially as much of the construction industry, which has traditionally been slower to adopt advanced technologies, shakes off the reticence to evolve because they’re losing bids to firms that embrace new cost-savings technologies.