In a hybrid work environment, consumer-facing companies continue to prioritize customers

Almost a year after shelter-in-place mandates changed the way people shop and travel, consumer-facing companies continue to navigate a slew of challenges.

While a cross-section of employees at consumer markets (CM) companies are essential workers who need to be physically present to do their jobs, many are able to work remotely. We first surveyed those employees as well as CM employers in June 2020, then again in December.

The results? Executives and employers alike agree the future of work will consist of a hybrid of remote and in-person assignments. They may differ on the details, but they agree there’s no going back to a pre-pandemic environment. In fact, CM employers told us they plan to double down on investments in the tools and resources required to sustain this hybrid environment.

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Are you ready to embrace the workplace of the future?

Employers more bullish on remote work

While both executives and employees told us that the shift to remote work has been successful, employers are far more enthusiastic (92%) than employees (62%). That’s likely because employers are assessing overall metrics while employees are finding collaboration more challenging in a remote setting.

It’s no surprise then that 91% of CM employers told us remote work has proved as productive or more productive than pre-COVID times (versus 83% for all sectors), up from 77% in our June survey.

Meanwhile, only 76% of employees agreed (in line with all sectors at 77%), down slightly from 79% in June. In fact, about a quarter of employees said they’re less productive, compared with 10% of executives.

Implications: Employees continue to find collaboration challenging in a remote environment. Tools and resources to enhance secure remote connectivity, combined with teaming spaces in the office, can help with relationship-building, especially for new employees.


One-quarter of employees less productive than pre-COVID


Employers
Employees
Much more productive
%
%
More productive
%
%
About the same
%
%
Less productive
%
%
Much less productive
%
%

Q: Which of the following best describes your productivity working remotely compared to before COVID-19?
Employees: CM base 130
Q: How has average employee productivity changed (compared to pre-COVID)?
Employers: CM base 35
Source: PwC US Remote Work Survey, January 2021

Employers invest in tech tools for remote work

In keeping with their expectation that some measure of remote work is here to stay, employers told us they’re doubling down on the tools and resources required for a hybrid work environment.

Ahead of other sectors, almost 80% said they will invest in IT infrastructure to enable secure and effective virtual connectivity. The vast majority of CM employees (84%) told us they already have the mobile support they need, well ahead of other sectors at 74%.

Implications: The foundation of remote work—secure IT infrastructure—allows CM companies to prepare for a post-pandemic future in which the right combination of digital and physical options will prevail.


Preparing for a hybrid future*


Providing mobile experience for work application
%
Allowing workday flexibility
%
Helping with workload management
%
Setting clear rules about employee work times
%
Providing home office equipment
%

*Highest ranked choices from a list of 9 options.
Q: How would you describe how successful your company has been in supporting employees to become more productive in a remote working environment (respondents answering very successful and somewhat successful)?
Employees: Base 1,200; CM base 130
Source: PwC US Remote Work Survey, January 2021

Going with the flow is working—for now

More than other sectors, CM leaders are going with the flow on remote work (40% versus 32%). They told us they plan to maintain some level of remote work in the future—and they may even increase the current level.

While 57% of employees said they’d like to work at home at least three days per week when pandemic-related restrictions are lifted, 58% said they expect to be working in the office at least half of the time by July 2021.

This finding is in sync with what CM executives told us: By July, 71% anticipate at least 50% of their office workers will be back in the office part of the time.

Implications: Staying flexible now allows CM leaders to plan for the right mix of remote and in-person work schedules in the future.


Best of both worlds


Going with the flow. Business performance is not suffering. We'll keep some level of remote work and will likely increase it.
%
Prefer limited remote schedules. We worry about business performance suffering, but people like it, likely including future talent.
%
Back to the office as soon as feasible. We're at our best on-site and in person.
%
It's been great! We're better off giving up on office space entirely (all working from home).
%
No turning back: Many of our office employees will rotate in and out of the office, working remotely a significant amount of their time.
%

Q: Which of the following statements best describes how you feel about remote work at your company?
Employers: Base 133 CM base 35
Source: PwC US Remote Work Survey, January 2021

Why does the office matter?

Despite the success of remote work, the office still matters to CM executives as they look ahead to a hybrid environment. They told us the office remains very important for increasing employee productivity, holding client meetings and accommodating employees who can’t work from home.

For employees, relationships with colleagues are a top priority, with 58% saying it’s very important while they’re in the office, compared to 44% for other sectors. While they also cited accessing sensitive information, training and meeting with managers, none of those reasons compare to the importance they ascribe to building relationships.

Implications: Some level of in-person contact is essential to build valuable peer-to-peer relationships for efficient workflow. A hybrid work setting will require the right mix.


When in the office, what matters to CM employees...*


Building relationships with colleagues
%
Accessing sensitive information
%
Collaborating with team members
%
Training (e.g., learning company software or processes)
%

*Highest ranked choices from a list of 12 options.
Q: How important are the following for while you’re in the office (respondents answering very important)?
Employees: Base 868; CM base 104
Source: PwC US Remote Work Survey, January 2021

...and CM employers*


Increase employee productivity
%
Provide a space to work for employees who cannot work from home
%
Provide a space to meet with clients
%
Support the local community
%

*Highest ranked choices from a list of 7 options.
Q: How important will the following be for your physical office in the future? (respondents answering very important)?
Employers: Base 133; CM base 35
Source: PwC US Remote Work Survey, January 2021

CM executives split on the need for more office space in the years ahead

Looking ahead, more than half of the CM executives we polled (54%) told us they see a need for additional real estate three years from now, as they anticipate growth in the number of employees, physical distancing requirements and the need for team collaboration space.

About a third (32%) expect to need less space in three years, anticipating an increase in the frequency and number of employees working remotely. Some said they might reduce overall office space in response to the increased cost of public-health-related regulatory compliance requirements at the office.

In the short term, over the next 12 months, CM executives plan to consolidate office space in at least one major business district location as well as open more satellite offices in suburban locations or away from major cities.

Implications: The jury’s still out. While CM executives foresee growth in three years, they’re split on the need for more office space to keep up with that growth and the attendant public-health requirements for physical distancing and safety.



Rethinking corporate work spaces


Consolidate office space in at least one premier business district location
%
Open more locations, such as satellite offices in suburbs
%
Consolidate office space, but outside of major cities
%
No changes planned over the next 12 months
%

Q: What changes are you making to your real estate strategy in the next 12 months?
Employers: Base 128; TMT base 33
Source: PwC US Remote Work Survey, January 2021

The success of customer relationships will drive the future of work

Customer relationships are the lifeblood of consumer-facing companies—and these relationships have fared well, despite the remote-work environment necessitated by the pandemic. Indeed, 94% of the CM executives we polled said customer-service levels are now as good as, or better than in the past.

That’s because CM companies have doubled down on digital investments to ensure a high-touch experience for customers, no matter how they choose to interact with a company: online, in person or using some combination of the two. And these digital investments have enabled companies to provide the training and tools that employees need for success in a combined digital and physical workplace.

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Dr. Deniz  Caglar

Dr. Deniz Caglar

Principal, Organization and Workforce Strategy, Strategy&, PwC US

Tyson Cornell

Tyson Cornell

Consumer Markets Industry Leader, PwC US

Melissa Palmer

Melissa Palmer

Consumer Markets Assurance Leader, PwC US

Tom  Puthiyamadam

Tom Puthiyamadam

Digital Products & Consumer Markets Advisory Leader, PwC US

Eric Shin

Eric Shin

Consumer Markets Tax Leader, PwC US

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