Find out how CEOs think COVID-19 will impact future business operations, in this PwC report

by Brianna Crandall — October 28, 2020 — The need for business leaders and policy makers to fundamentally rethink the way they plan, invest and operate in the future is underlined in a new survey of 699 global chief executive officers (CEOs) recently released by global financial services firms network PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers).

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% say 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 CEOs reconfigure business operations to secure growth in the next 12 months and beyond. Over half (58%) of respondents say 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.

Bob Moritz, global chairman, PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited, stated:

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. 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%) of CEOs believe there will be a permanent shift towards onshoring and insourcing, and a similar share expect an enduring increase in nationalism.

Kristin Rivera, global leader, Forensics & Crisis, PwC US, remarked:

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded CEOs of the importance of building resilience into their operating model. Firms that were able to quickly adopt digital working practices or switch their supply chains were better able to withstand the shock. CEOs now need to simultaneously contend with the unfolding pandemic and to rethink how they operate in the future. Not every innovation developed in a crisis is right for the long term, but there is much to learn.

CEOs are naturally cautious on their own revenue growth prospects in the year ahead (45% somewhat confident, 15% very confident). 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 include health and safety (92%), well-being (61%) and financial support (24%). A full 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.

Bhushan Sethi, joint global leader, People and Organization, PwC US, commented:

The accelerated shift to flexible working has been valuable for many companies. 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 and masks) and decreases in the use of the sharing economy would only be temporary.

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, while 38% believe it is temporary.

Divided about the role of government

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 coronavirus 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.

Moritz continued:

Some CEOs may feel like they’ve passed a critical test. 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.

PwC’s CEO Panel survey, conducted in June and July 2020 as an extension of PwC’s Global CEO Survey, reflects the views of 699 CEOs on emerging business models and key trends resulting from COVID-19. They are leaders of private businesses and public companies, of small firms and $1 bn+ enterprises, and represent a diverse-cross section of industries, countries and territories. Respondents came from 67 countries/territories, including: Western Europe (42% of respondents), North America (7%), and the Middle East (3%).

PwC’s CEO Panel Survey: How Business Can Emerge Stronger is available for free download from the PwC website. PwC is a network of firms in 157 countries with over 276,000 people who are committed to delivering quality in assurance, advisory and tax services.