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Post-COVID changes are permanent and there are more to come: PwC survey

According to CEOs, shifts towards remote working, automation and low-density offices are here to stay

Post-COVID changes are permanent and there are more to come: PwC survey
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The need for business leaders and policymakers to fundamentally rethink the way they plan, invest and operate in the future is underlined in a new survey of 699 global CEOs released by PwC.

The survey shows the majority of CEOs believe that COVID-19 pandemic driven shifts towards remote collaboration (78 per cent), automation (76 per cent) and fewer people working from offices (61 per cent), are here to stay. Overall, 61 per cent 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 they reconfigure business operations to secure growth in the next 12 months and beyond. Fifty-eight per cent of CEOs 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.

"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," said Bob Moritz, Global Chairman, PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited.

In a challenge to decades of increased globalisation, 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, added, "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."

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 per cent), well-being (61 per cent) and financial support (24 per cent). Forty-two per cent made contributions to community organisations and almost a third (32 per cent) of business leaders reduced their own pay. Those CEOs who maximised retention (36 per cent) and protected employee health and safety (92 per cent) believe it will have a positive impact on their organisation's long-term reputation.

Bhushan Sethi, Joint Global Leader, People and Organisation, 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 per cent) 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.

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