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Over the last seven months, the construction industry has weathered the impacts stemming from COVID-19 significantly better than other sectors. While there were some states where local governments deemed construction work to be non-essential, many allowed projects to continue with strict social distancing measures in place. This was the case in much of South Florida, where construction activity was only down by 15 percent, according to JLL’s Construction Outlook. While some interior buildouts have been temporarily paused, the majority of ongoing projects have continued through the pandemic.

Like the different markets, the construction arena has seen varying impacts across the board, with sectors having fared better than others. However, in the world of retail, restaurant and office spaces, change was inevitable.

A New Dining Experience

As one of the hardest-hit sectors, the restaurant industry has had to undergo significant changes, as evident in the latest restaurant design trends. Future and existing spaces will likely see the expansion of outdoor dining, interior space planning, investments in technology, and integration of drive-thru, delivery and pick-up options.

In markets that are fortunate to have warm weather climates, restaurant owners can offer year-round dining options with outdoor spaces. The pandemic is creating an increased demand for outdoor dining, and the construction industry is identifying new, innovative ways to expand layouts to accommodate outdoor dining.

Indoors, construction is getting creative by making temporary changes to layouts to accommodate the surge of takeout and delivery business that has persisted through the pandemic. Dining rooms have suddenly become makeshift fulfillment centers, and entrances have been replaced with takeout windows.

New technologies also factor into the mix. More restaurateurs are contemplating how to introduce touchless features in entryways, dining rooms and even kitchens. The future of dining will include digital waiting lists, QR codes that allow diners to order from their table with a smartphone and contactless payment systems.

Retail and New Styles

Long before the pandemic, the growth of e-commerce was already impacting the retail sector. The real estate strategies of big-box operators have been most heavily impacted by the growth of e-commerce but, for the most part, higher-end retailers still value the boutique store model because it allows for more personalized service and creates opportunities to bring a brand to life in a physical setting

As with restaurants, retailers are embracing outdoor space as a means for limiting indoor person-to-person interaction during—and long after—the pandemic. For example, some retailers are looking to redesign storefronts to offer open-air concepts that lie flush with their building, which ultimately positions the interior of the layout further back.

This shift has placed an emphasis on the design aesthetic of consumer-facing spaces while reducing the need for significant back-of-house space. It is expected that retailers will follow this business model post-pandemic, and there will be continued growth in the number of brands offering curbside pickup. All of this is to say that retailers are putting more weight on the quality of store planning, design and construction, as opposed to warehousing their inventory on site.

Office Dynamics

When looking at the future of office space, two factors come into play. First is ground-up construction. Property owners and developers who are planning to build offices can incorporate new features and design elements that promote wellness, such as open-air common areas, enhanced HVAC systems that rely less heavily on recycled air, UV lighting systems believed to kill airborne germs, touchless technologies, automated lighting, thermo-sensors and more.

At the same time, office landlords who operate buildings are working with tenants to retrofit existing spaces as best they can. Everything from the addition of glass and plexiglass barriers installed between workstations and structural modifications to office layouts, to the installation of touch-free entry and exit systems that alleviate the need to interact with door handles and elevator buttons is being considered. While there is always more flexibility when planning and building first-generation space, several strategies can still be implemented to enhance the safety of an existing office.

Emerging from COVID-19

At the start of the pandemic, the construction industry saw a loss of more than a million jobs. With construction starts and put-in-place spending taking a hit, the national industry is experiencing a slowdown. However, as we close the year and head into 2021, the forecast looks positive as the industry continues to adapt and move ahead.

While the long-term impacts are still becoming clear, the construction industry continuously adapts to the sweeping changes stemming from the pandemic, analyzing different asset types and identifying customized solutions that reflect the new reality and provide the opportunity for business owners to resume and sustain operations in a post-COVID-19 world.

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