Poll results, week 2: Doubled adverse COVID-19 impact on engineers, industry

Research analysis, advice: Adverse effects of Coronavirus more than doubled in just a week for visitors to Control Engineering, Plant Engineering, Oil & Gas Engineering, and Consulting-Specifying Engineer websites taking a survey on COVID-19 impacts on engineering. For respondents answering March 11 to 19 and March 20 to 25, 13% felt a “great deal” of impact in the first week and 35% the next week.

By Mark T. Hoske April 8, 2020

Nearly 3 of 4 respondents to a coronavirus (COVID-19) impact survey said their businesses have been negatively affected, up from half the week before. Of the 74% negatively impacted, those feeling a “great deal” of impact increased 13% to 35% in a week; 39% of respondents felt negative impact was not much or difficult to measure, up from 35% the week before.  

Those experiencing severe supply chain impacts also nearly doubled in a week from 9% to 17%. Among respondents, 53% are having supply chain problems March 20-25, up a bit from 48% March 10 to 19. Minor problems decreased from 39% to 33%. No problems remained at 38%. 

Leading company actions to date focus on limiting travel (77% the first week increased to 80% the second); encouraging work from home (52 to 56%); working on contingency plans now with changes expected soon (52 to 57%); and eliminating travel (36 to 45%). 

Take the COVID-19 engineering impacts survey or take it again if your situation has changed.

Survey method 

From March 11 to 19 and from March 20 to 25 visitors to Control Engineering, Plant Engineering, Oil & Gas Engineering, and ConsultingSpecifying Engineer websites gave coronavirus impact data. For the first period 158 responses to the CFE Media and Technology survey, 84 respondents answered all questions, and 74 answered some of the questions. Margin of error was 10.6%. Questions covered coronavirus impact on business, company responses, remote work and operations, supply chain, travel, user group and trade shows, future outlook for similar challenges, government strategies by country, and advice. Incentive was a chance to win a $50 gift card.  

For the second periodMarch 20 to 25, there were 79 respondents, with 37 answering all the questions and 42 answering some of the questions.  132 respondents answering all the questions. Margin of error was 11.02% for the second period. Each set does not include the same respondents. 

The survey continues to be available for future reporting. 

Survey results 

Among respondents for both periods, 70% were from the U.S., though more than 25 other countries were represented. Most among those were India, United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. 

Actions taken in response 

The survey asked what among 24 actions the respondents’ companies were taking because of coronavirus; most trended upward in number of “Yes” responsesThe top 10 responses (with two changing rank from last survey) were: 

  1. Limiting travel
  2. Working on contingency plans now; expect to see changes soon 
  3. Encouraging work from home
  4. Eliminating travel was the only one with an increase larger than margin of error at46% up from 35%, previously. 
  5. Delaying or eliminating hiring
  6. 6.Mandating work from home (for those that can)increased in rank from 8 last week. 
  7. Delaying or eliminating investments27% up from 21 
  8. 8.Adding supply chain contingencies, secondary sources, etc., down from 6 last week.
  9. Adding new manufacturing capabilities to make up for breaks in supply chain
  10. Increasing production of relevant product categories to meet increased demand.

Consulting-Specifying Engineer 

Modifying the actions taken in response question for Consulting-Specifying Engineer’s audience, while too small of a sample for statistical significance, the ranking follows. 

  1. Limiting travel
  2. Working with contractors and architects differently, such as virtual meetings
  3. Encouraging work from home
  4. Launching online collaboration tools, such as virtual design and construction
  5. Eliminating travel 
  6. Working on contingency plans now; expect to see changes soon 
  7. Mandating work from home (for those that can)
  8. Delaying or eliminating hiring 
  9. Delaying or eliminating investments
  10. Seeking more business from building owners/pact clients to conduct HVAC changes or updates.

An additional question for the ConsultingSpecifying Engineer respondents covered Coronavirus education. Interestingly, among five provided answers, the largest was “Other,” were respondents offered a variety of other efforts underway beyond the choices provided. Ranking follows. 

  1. Other 
  2. Assuring clients by providing WHO, CDC, local health department or other resource
  3. Working with ASHE and ASHRAE to help provide guidance.
  4. We have shared design/industry best practices based on codes/standards
  5. We are offering online/video presentations.

Working remotely, events, lessons 

Back to the full data set, looking at data collectively for the full period March 11 to 25, more provisions seem to have been made for working at home. Forty-seven percent (about the same as the first survey period) said they can complete critical parts job functions at home; however, only 24% said they could not, down from 31%; and 29% said they were unsure/only some parts, up from 24% for just the first period. 

While not much changed in the question about event cancelling, the second results period ended before the massive announcement that Hannover Messe had decided to cancel their annual tradeshow event until 2021 instead of holding it during the summer. Cancellation or postponed industry event and user groups is a big problem for 18% of respondents and a medium-sized problem for 35%, with 47% saying it’s not a problem; they can get the information needed virtually and/or from suppliers. 

Is COVID-19 teaching us anything? The survey asked if respondents’ companies would be more or less prepared for similar challenges in the future: 31% said yes absolutely more prepared in the full data set up from 26% during the first period, absolutely more prepared; 52% said a little more prepared but expect similar challenges about the same as 54% for just the first period; 15% said they expect no difference compared to 18% for the first period alone. A few respondents to that question said they expect their company would be less prepared next time there’s a similar event. 

Government strategies* 

What strategies should the U.S. government review to help address this type of situation in the future? 

The three ranked responses gained support since the last period surveyed. 

  1. Incentivize re-shoring of key manufacturing segments back to the USA (pharmaceutical or feedstock products (ranking score of 192 for the full period March 11 to 25 up from 154 during the first period ending March 19.) 
  2. Invest in medical research and development to speed vaccine development and virus testing capabilities (ranking score 189 for the full period up from 153) 
  3. Do even more to promote manufacturing automation where production can be completed with minimum operator involvement (ranking score 117 up from 89). 

Advice from respondents 

The survey also asked several open-ended questions. A sampling of lightly edited replies follows. 

What technologies, processes or advice not mentioned here are the engineering-minded people in your organization suggesting or offering to help with the coronavirus impact? 

Create additional separation of the work force, adding remote conferencing and online collaboration. 

Incoming materials sterilization processes. 

Look at nonmechanical solutions (passive systems) for tempering buildings. 

Remove chairs from meeting rooms to maintain good spacing. 

Replace air filters with HEPA type, deep cleaning. 

Tested IT infrastructure and VPNs, making upgrades as needed before the bulk of people transitioned to remote work. 

Use of hand sanitizer, dedicating time portion of the day or hour for cleaning. 

What operational initiatives is your company taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus in your facility?  

Daily email reminding employee about company health policy and CDC recommendation. Mandating work from home (for those that can). Those that have to come into the facility are required to follow the revised sanitation processes. 

Daily updates, daily review of best practices, additional hand washing, sanitizers, etc., closer availability of gloves, mask, eye protection, etc. 

Encouraging sick to stay home, eliminating international travel, severely limiting domestic travel, encouraging personal travel to be limited: If person travels they work from home for 14 days,  

Have always had hand sanitizer available as well as registered nurse on-shift as well as on-call. 

Possible UV sanitation. 

Sending health updates/links, changing sanitation processes, issuing gloves, hand sanitizer. 

What critical functions in your organization are the most difficult to perform remotely? 

All of the actual manufacturing. 

ANYTHING – State MANDATES work to be supervised by a licensed engineer. 

Functional testing of new HVAC systems. 

Manufacturing, test set-up and data collection, field service, installation, shipping/receiving, inventory work orders, quality control. 

On-site engineering oversight and project management; surveying and site inspections 

Supervise construction site. 

System installs on DCS and PCN hardware.  Operator and engineering training for clients. 


Are there any other strategies that the U.S. government should review to help address this type of situation in the future? 

Depend less on other country’s for medication. 

Improve worldwide disaster recovery plans. 

Pull manufacture of chemical raw materials from China. 

Something like healthcare-for-all and some sort of income for sick hourly/part-time worker in this scenario. Sick folks need to be able to get care AND have enough funds to stay home to get well. 

Try to completely stop the processes that leads to the spread of this type of virus. 

Take the COVID-19 engineering impacts survey or take it again if your situation has changed.

If reading from Control Engineering, please click here to take our latest survey.

If reading from Plant Engineering, please click here to take our latest survey.

If reading from Consulting Specifying Engineering, please click here to take our latest survey.

If reading from Oil & Gas Engineering, please click here to take our latest survey.

Other resources 

Review health and wellness news related to engineering atop each of the websites mentioned, now focused on coronavirus, COVID-19, including information from the first survey, posted March 19: 

Poll results: Coronavirus, COVID-19 impact on engineers and industry 





Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, mhoske@cfemedia.com., with help from the CFE Media and Technology research team. 


COVID-19 engineering impacts, survey, advice 

Adverse effects of COVID-19 doubled since the prior survey. 

Severe supply chain problems also doubled since the prior survey. 

Reshoring and more medical R&D were tied for strategies government should undertake to mitigate similar future threats. 


Catch up on engineering effects of COVID-19 at CFE Media and Technology websites; share your impacts in our ongoing poll. 

Original content can be found at Control Engineering.

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.