As Pro AV Assesses the Financial Damage, it Eyes the Next Normal

The Impact Survey is a weekly assessment of pro AV industry trends, attitudes and perceptions in light of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic.

Top Takeaways

  • New information gauges the steps companies are taking to go back to work safely.
  • A steady share of AV providers says they’ve been impacted negatively, although the share of all AV providers citing fresh revenue declines has gotten smaller.
  • Figuring out the extent of the damage will take time.

It’s too early to say we’ve hit bottom. Revenue losses continue to reveal themselves and companies are still taking what measures are left to ride out the business destruction brought on by the pandemic. But with each passing week, more local economies are beginning to open, and AV professionals are planning for what’s next: going back to work in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the tenuous foundation from which we’re restarting.

“In the U.K., there are specific requirements for work to continue … that means a review of safe systems, risk assessments, and re-planning to minimize the risk of infection,” said one AV provider in the latest Impact Survey, fielded May 19-20. “Most controls revolve around health awareness and hygiene. Social distancing is the bigger challenge, so [that means] minimal staff on site, site setup arranged to minimize the risk of working in close proximity, and where this is unavoidable — short term — specific risk assessments. Essentially all work now has to be put through this additional level of management, so that's extra documentation, extra procedures, extra training …. It’s subject to lots and lots of change.”

Said another, “We have developed and published a set of COVID-19 pandemic policies and guidelines for the benefit of our employees, clients and partners. We rely on CDC-published protocols primarily, with additional precautions as we believe necessary.”

This week, AVIXA® Market Intelligence asked members of its AV Intelligence Panel about specific measures they’re taking to work safely. Of AV providers (integrators, designers, manufacturers, distributors, service providers, live events companies), 74% said their staffs are wearing masks; 42% said they’re doing extra cleaning at project sites; 40% are reducing the number of staff at project sites; and 36% say they’re regularly screening crews for symptoms of COVID-19. For many, project work has not yet resumed, so we will be monitoring these answers in the coming weeks for indications that more professionals may be on-site. Additionally, 25% said they’re planning to complete projects over a longer period of time, and 23% said they’re working off-hours at client sites.

Among end user customers, 60% said they’re wearing face masks, 48% reducing the number of staff on projects, 38% doing extra cleaning, and 31% planning to finish projects over a longer period of time.

Of course, project sites aren’t the only places AV professionals will need to be protected as work begins to resume. “We have adopted work-from-home practices where possible,” said one AV provider in our survey. “But we are also redesigning our workspace and video studio for social distancing. We are continuously learning and being incredibly creative with the solutions we offer clients. This is survival mode right now.”

Said another, “Currently we are still working from home with limited staff in the main office to help keep the network up and running. We have also installed new high-accuracy thermal cameras at our entrances to help screen people when we have them come back to the office.”

"We are continuously learning and being incredibly creative with the solutions we offer clients."

Said another, “Currently we are still working from home with limited staff in the main office to help keep the network up and running. We have also installed new high-accuracy thermal cameras at our entrances to help screen people when we have them come back to the office.”

Most Know It's Been Hard, But How Hard?

In the latest Impact Survey, 61% of AV providers said their businesses had been negatively impacted, the same share as last week. Among end user respondents, 57% perceived a negative impact over the prior seven days, down from 63% the week before.

In previous Impact Surveys, we asked respondents who’d said their companies were negatively impacted to cite those negative impacts, including revenue loss, slowing sales, and more. With the share of respondents impacted negatively slowly in decline, we asked the entire panel about specific impacts from the prior week. This has meant the percentages have dropped, but we’ve projected weighted measures from last week’s survey in order to draw some comparison. For example, of all respondents — whether or not they said they’d been impacted negatively — 40% of AV providers said they’d seen declines in revenue. Applying weighted measures to last week’s survey data indicates this percentage is down from about 48%.

Looking at other impacts, 42% of all AV providers cited slowing sales (versus a weighted average of 43% last week) and 31% had seen supply chain disruptions (up significantly from 22% overall last week).

On the flip side, this week, 44% of end users perceived revenue decline at their companies, which would be up from a 41% weighted average of last week’s respondents. Nearly 30% of all end users said they were dealing with supply chain disruptions.

Said one end user, “In the short term, my employer is having to consider retooling conference rooms and offices to COVID-19 standards, as well as getting used to the fact that in the long term, maybe as much as 25% of the workforce will want to continue remote working.”

According to the data, it appears the share of companies that have, for example, seen revenue declines or implemented layoffs/furloughs have leveled off. However, the extent of revenue declines and layoffs/furloughs is still a moving target for many. For example, although the overall analysis of respondents citing reduced revenue pegs those declines at about 15%, the share of AV providers seeing revenue declines in the 21% to 40% range has increased to 33% of respondents, up from 19% last week, indicating it’s too early to tell exactly how tough the pandemic has been for many pro AV businesses.

When it comes to layoffs/furloughs, while the share of companies reducing staff has leveled off, some AV providers are slightly upping their assessment of the extent of those reductions. For example, last week 30% of AV providers said 1% to 10% of their workforces had been laid off/furloughed; this week, that figure is just 6% and a greater share (22%) said layoffs/furloughs were in the neighborhood of 11% to 20% (up from 12% saying so last week). Notably, the share of AV providers citing much larger staff reductions (81% and up), has grown to 28%. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that respondents still indicate the vast majority of these reductions are furloughs, not permanent layoffs.

“It is hard for us to gauge the overall impact since we are a global company,” said one AV provider. “Hotels and certain business have taken this opportunity to start or continue the projects they had scheduled for later in the year or scheduled around conferences and client use. Our reduced staff has meant a tripling or quadrupling of the design load for those still on staff.”

Work is Getting Done

AV companies are working. Almost 90% of AV providers and 88% of end users report operating at full or reduced capacity.

Asked about positive impacts over the prior week, 40% of AV providers and 30% of end users cited resumption of projects. And the share of respondents saying they’ve held in-person meetings (12% of AV providers and 10% of end users) has ticked up. Once again, nearly 40% of AV providers said they’d seen an increase of incoming inquiries.

“As Virginia opens back up slowly, our local government client and school systems that put projects on hold are reaching out and starting the procurement processes again,” said an AV provider.

Overall, the tone of comments has changed. AV professionals are starting to describe the next normal.

“Discussions are happening of how things will be when we go back to the office,” said another AV provider. “We’re considering Fridays as mandatory work-from-home days to get the office fully cleaned, optional WFH offered for all employees, and possibly group A/group B work hours or days.”

And here’s one thought, from an AV provider, as companies move forward with a new emphasis on telework: “Many of us have realized that videoconferencing needs a lot of work to avoid psychological drain. Many people are doing 6 to 8 hours a day of videoconferencing, making their work suffer and their bodies. New remote workplace norms will need to be established to help us move forward in a reasonable way.”

The next survey results will be released on May 29.

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