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Survey: CEOs Worldwide Predict Pandemic-Driven Changes Will Last

The need for business leaders and policy makers to fundamentally rethink the way they plan, invest and operate in the future has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This is according to a survey of 699 global CEOs by PwC, which had respondents from 67 countries/territories including: Western Europe (42% of respondents); North America (7%); Middle East (3%).

The survey shows the majority of CEOs believe that COVID-19 pandemic-driven shifts towards remote collaboration (78%), automation (76%) and fewer people working from offices (61%), are here to stay. Overall, 61% said their business model will be more digital in the future — a change accelerated by the pandemic.

Responses show digital infrastructure, flexible working and employee well-being will top their boardroom agendas as they reconfigure business operations to secure growth in the next 12 months and beyond. 58% of CEOs said ensuring supply chain safety will remain a focus, driving technology investments to enable tracking of products from production to delivery, and to ensure their suppliers and partners are resilient during crises.

“Business leaders need to simultaneously keep their company running today and fundamentally rethink their strategy for tomorrow, so they come out of the pandemic ready to reconfigure their business to thrive in a very different world,” said Bob Moritz, global chairman at PwC. “And they need to do that, thinking not just about the COVID-19 acceleration of change in society and the rising expectations of their broader stakeholders, but also the other issues that are going to fundamentally reshape the future of business - from climate change to populism.”

In a challenge to decades of increased globalization, almost two in five (39%) CEOs believe there will be a permanent shift towards on-shoring and insourcing, and a similar share expect an enduring increase in nationalism.

CEOs are naturally cautious on their own revenue growth prospects in the year ahead (45% somewhat confident: 15% very confident). About 65% are predicting a decline in global growth. Concern about the global economy is highest in Africa, Central & Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Business leaders also believe the pandemic increased the importance of responding to a wider range of stakeholder issues, particularly employees. Employee support measures included health and safety (92%), well-being (61%) and financial support (24%). 42% made contributions to community organizations and almost a third (32%) of business leaders reduced their own pay. Those CEOs who maximized retention (36%) and protected employee health and safety (92%) believe it will have a positive impact on their organization’s long-term reputation.

“The accelerated shift to flexible working has been valuable for many companies,” said Bhushan Sethi, joint global leader, people and organization at PwC U.S. “Whatever new models emerge, it's clear that employee-oriented policies that invest in safety, protection and well-being could become the new differentiator for recruitment, retention and company reputation.”

The changes driven by COVID-19 add significantly to an already full agenda for CEOs. Climate change remains an influential trend for consumers and businesses alike. When asked if the shift to climate change mitigation would endure, the majority of business leaders (47%) said it would. Business leaders believe short-term increases in disposables (including sanitizers, masks) and decreases in the use of the sharing economy would only be temporary.

Other key survey findings:

  • Limited Retreat from Cities: While the majority of CEOs (61%) believe that there will be lower workplace density than before, they remain divided about what role cities will play in the future: 34% believe the shift towards de-urbanization will continue; 38% believing it is temporary.
  • Divided About Government’s Role: Business leaders are not expecting extended government support, with the majority (57%) believing state intervention to be a temporary feature, despite the potential for governments to use the support to influence COVID-19 recovery and policies impacting business. Less than one in three (30%) believe government support will be sustained, despite a gloomy outlook for global and organizational growth prospects in the next 12 months. One in five respondents say they declined government-backed support for their business during the pandemic.

“Some CEOs may feel like they've passed a critical test,” Moritz said. “What's critical now is that they use the important knowledge they've gained about their organizations effectively for business and society. The most enduring shift in this pandemic is the reality that it can no longer be a choice between the long and the short term. We need to address both.”


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