Results of PresPoll #7: COVID-19 Impacts on Preservation

February 2020

PlaceEconomics periodically conducts online surveys on topics of interest to those in historic preservation and related fields. The most recent poll asked about positive and negative impacts of the Coronavirus and the responses to the pandemic taken by preservation professionals. A link to the survey was posted on the firm’s Facebook pages as well as being distributed through an e-mail list assembled by PlaceEconomics and its companion firm Heritage Strategies International.

The challenges articulated in the poll related to business operations, personal finances, the inability to provide the professional services that clients expect, experiencing a sense of isolation, and more. For the open-ended questions, the usually terse comments were often so powerful and reflective of challenges caused by the pandemic that they are included as appendices in this report just as they were written by the respondents.

Participants did acknowledge some positive outcomes, most prominently the appreciated a newfound expertise in communicating with colleagues and constituents remotely, but the sentiment was often followed by a feeling that enough is enough. “Zoom – I am so so over it.”

The overriding theme was a strong desire to move back to “normal” while taking into the future a selection of skills acquired over the last year. More than three-quarters of respondents said, “We will continue to utilize electronic interaction technology but also look forward to renewing face to face work.”

Finally, it also emerged that were significantly different experiences for those in the private, public, and non-profit sectors, with the latter being particularly hard hit in terms of loss of projects, reduced budgets, and personnel cutbacks. It is our hope that the results of this survey will reinforce the sense among preservation professionals and organizations that “you are not alone” and also showcase the resilience demonstrated by many during what was the most challenging professional year in their careers.

Key Findings

In the pages that follow the responses to each of the survey questions are reported in the aggregate and, when statistically significant, broken out into responses among subgroups of survey takers. Highlights of the findings include the following:

  • Respondents to this survey were overwhelmingly preservation professionals. Nearly 2/3s of the respondents (63.2%) stated that historic preservation is a “significant part of my job” and another 12.3% that preservation is “occasionally part of my job.”
  • Over half (51.9%) said that the cancellation of meetings/conferences/workshops negatively affected their business or profession a great deal. major negative impacts were increased individual workload (37.6%), and revenue/budget/contribution reductions (32.5%). That last category impacted non-profit organizations significantly more than either public or private sector entities.
  • In open-ended questions about negative impacts, comments that were categorized as “business operations” were most common (29.3%) followed by “personal” (16.4%) and “business financial” (15.5%).
  • Just over half of survey respondents (50.1%) identified “Developing new partnerships” as “a great deal” or “somewhat” a positive outcome.
  • “Internal reorganization that will have positive impacts even after the coronavirus” was often noted, particularly in the non-profit and private sectors.
  • There were not many instances where the responses of US preservationists differed significantly from their international counterparts. One exception, however, was the “positive impacts” question which included a “Increased revenues/contributions/budgets” alternative. While only 17.5% of all respondents answered, “A great deal” or “Somewhat,” 42.6% of non-US poll takers responded that increased resources was “Somewhat” of a positive outcome.
  • The responses to the pandemic were nearly universal, with the vast majority reporting that “Electronic interaction with co-workers” (83.9%), “Electronic interaction with clients/constituents” (83.0%), “Working remotely” (78.9%), and “Reduction in travel” (67.3%) were “Used extensively.”
  • A far smaller share of respondents reported that the “Development of new products/services to meet client/constituent needs” was a pandemic response, with the exception of the non-profit organizations who said that they used that strategy “Extensively” (26.5%) or “Somewhat” (42.9%).
  • In response to the open-ended question about how organizations adapted, a plurality of the responses was categorized as either “Increased electronic capacity” (46.3%) or “Modified business operations” (42.6%)
  • Finally, more than 3 in 4 respondents (77.4%) said, “We will continue to utilize electronic interaction technology but also look forward to renewing face to face work.”