Written by: Gavin Jones, LEED AP
As senior project manager at Colliers | Columbus, Gavin Jones is driven to partner with commercial building owners and tenants to protect their interests and serve as an advocate during their construction project. Gavin’s 14 years of professional experience provides discipline across each phase of the planning and construction process, allowing him to play an integral role in the project from start to finish. Keep reading to get Gavin’s take on where project management stands in the time of COVID-19.
From your experience, how has COVID-19 affected the timelines of projects you’re working on?
For those jobs that were already under construction in March, we were lucky enough to see minimal delays – possibly a slight hiccup due to shortages in manpower or a lead time issue with an out of state product, but forward motion nonetheless. I think at that point, owners just wanted to fight through the pandemic and finish what they started. On the other hand, if a project was still in the planning or pre-construction phases, such as being designed or priced out, it was more common to see a sudden halt in the projects so owners and tenants could monitor what was going on in the world. Some of those projects have dissolved, while other clients have gained enough confidence to slowly move forward again. In general, though, it appears as though construction will be a bit slower for a while.
Has the pandemic affected your process of selecting/hiring vendors and contractors for projects?
Certainly. It’s actually been one positive in this whole mess. Pricing is starting to get a little more competitive, affording the client some potential cost savings that they were definitely not seeing when construction was booming. Five months ago, contractors’ rates were extremely inflated because no one needed the work – there was so much of it. But as that changes, costs come down. Believe it or not, we are actually getting calls from vendors and contractors looking for work.
From what you’ve seen, what types of tenants or spaces have put projects on hold or cancelled plans altogether?
Simply put, and strictly speaking from what I’ve seen from sectors firsthand, retail is beat up, office is bruised, industrial stumbled and healthcare is still just cruising along. The first two are cancelling or holding on projects, while the latter two are continuing onward on more stable ground.
Have you noticed a difference in the amount of TI allowance landlords are giving to tenants?
Not yet, but we’re all curious to see how COVID-19 affects real estate in the near future. Using the office sector as an example, there’s a lot of space in Columbus. And if users see no reason to expand or relocate to larger spaces, competition to unload vacant space is going to intensify. One way to sweeten the pot for a potential tenant would obviously be to provide more upfront money for improvements.
Have any of your clients reevaluated/changed their previously planned layouts based on social distancing and safety rules?
I spoke with my team about this and the answer around the table was “no”. We’ve been asked about dividers for work stations, but that’s it. I’m betting that if we do see a change to typical layouts, it will happen in the next wave or two of new projects. Potential changes could include more “hoteling” in office spaces, but conversely – or in conjunction with – more hard-walled offices. Personally, I believe a combination of the two would allow tenants to maintain the same footprint while continuing to grow staff and stay healthy. This works by shrinking space for versatile employees that can take turns being physically present in the office, and also more appropriately separating the employees that are there 8am-5pm Monday through Friday.
Do you think the pandemic is affecting or will affect the use of project management services in the future?
While we haven’t dealt with this yet, let’s face it – project management is a service that is supplemental to design and construction. Truthfully, it is not required to get the job done. And while we as project managers are always barking the added benefits of our services, such as the money we save, time we spend and expertise we provide, I wouldn’t be shocked to see that the need for us to properly present and prove these services intensifies as owners are zeroing in on how they can minimize project costs even more than before.