Seven phrases A/E firms don’t use anymore

There’s been a lot of change in how business and work get done in the AE industry over the past three years.

By Morrissey Goodale February 14, 2022
Courtesy: CFE Media & Technology

The Model T spelled the end for the horse-drawn buggy, and with it, the thriving buggy-whip making industry (#endbigbuggywhip). When something new and better comes along (hello, internet; goodbye, newspapers), the old ways of doing things go the way of the dodo.

There’s been a lot of change in how business and work get done in the AE industry over the past three years. And in some ways, what was “normal” three years ago is barely relevant today. Here are some things that you do NOT hear AE firm employees, managers, and owners say today.

1. I really miss my two-hour commute: The days of AE industry employees—especially those in major metro areas—commuting for an hour (or more!) in both directions to “get to work” are gone. Whether it’s a full- or partial-remote model, employees are converting those 10-plus hours a week into either (a) more work (surprisingly) or (b) literally anything except commuting.

2. I really miss my cube: Variety is the spice of life. Turns out for a whole bunch of AE professionals, it’s the preferred work model too. Designers, planners, and scientists are ditching their 6’ x 6’ drab cubes and signing in from Starbucks, calling in from Cabo, and Teamsing with a virtual or blurred background from wherever they darn well please. Many AE firms are not only happy to offer their employees this flexibility but are actively encouraging them to use it with a view to a happier, more productive, more loyal workforce.

3. I really miss writing down dial-in numbers for conference calls: Remember them? First you dialed the 800 number. Then the loooooong series of numbers to access the call (that you always surprised yourself when you entered them correctly) followed by (as the woman with the Canadian accent said) “the pound or hashtag button.” Now it’s all one-click Zoom and Teams and you’re in. (Thank you, mystery CEO, for this one.)

4. I really miss weekly business travel: Snowstorms. Delayed flights. Rushing to the airport. Lousy overpriced sandwiches at the concourse Wolfgang Puck On The Go. Stuck overnight at the airport Marriott. Wondering how a hotel can get away with calling a single 20-year-old treadmill with a broken TV monitor a “fitness center.” Missing your kid’s piano recital or hockey game (or just plain missing your kids). Middle seats. Kids kicking the back of your seat. Passengers sneezing all around you. Hearing the “mind your elbows” only after the drinks cart had skinned your elbow. Yup, you don’t hear too many former road warriors say they miss business travel. They may miss spending their business development expense accounts, but they don’t miss the relentless beating their bodies took pre-pandemic. Nor the dry- cleaning bills. As one CEO expressed it: “I’d like to travel a little more, but nowhere near as much as I was doing pre-pandemic.”

5. I really miss spending 6% to 8% of hard-won revenues on rent: With revenues doubling (or more!) for many firms over the past three years at the same time that office footprints have been shrinking, along with securing better (cheaper!) lease terms, there’s not a CFO in the industry who isn’t feeling good about where things are now or who would want to go back in time.

6. I really miss single-digit profits: Lower real estate expenses + minimal internal travel expenses + unabated record demand for services = double-digit profits = record stock values and bonuses. No principal misses the days of scrambling to hit 10% pre-tax, pre-bonus profit and worrying if they can do it again next year.

7. I really miss cutting fees to win work: There’s zero excess capacity in the system and overwhelming demand for AE and environmental services from coast to coast. Every firm is pushing fees up—subtly, professionally, politely, with great deference—however you want to describe it. But, with backlogs at record highs, no firm has to acquiesce to unreasonable client demands for lower fees.

The upshot: A new cadence is emerging for how business gets done in the AE industry. Much of what was “standard operating procedure” prior to the pandemic will remain—but will be more refined going forward. However, the industry will also shed a lot of wasteful, sub-optimal practices that you will hear nobody say, “I really miss…”


This article originally appeared on Morrissey Goodale’s websiteMorrissey Goodale is a CFE Media content partner.

Original content can be found at