Latest findings from PwC’s Pulse Survey
Even though US businesses made the switch to remote work overnight, don’t expect the post-pandemic transition to happen all at once. Companies are forging their own paths back to the office and the overall trend is not yet clear. One in five operations leaders expect to see their need for office space decline over the next three years, while the majority (63%) anticipate they’re likely to need more space and only a few (15%) expect they won’t have to make any change.
Findings from PwC’s survey of chief operating officers (COOs) show that few companies are ready to embrace a fully remote model that would affect all functions; these leaders continue to see barriers stand in the way. However, in the near term, they also recognize that there are policy gaps to fill before businesses can regain confidence to be back on-site.
91 operations leaders from Fortune 1000 and private companies, along with other C-suite executives, weighed in on policy-related issues in our latest PwC US Pulse Survey, fielded November 9 to November 13, 2020. Find these insights in our Election 2020 report. In the ongoing survey, COOs also shared their perspectives on other top-of-mind issues, including mid-term planning for office space.
The government’s response to the pandemic will play a critical role in building confidence to return to the physical office space, according to operations leaders. Most recognize that making safe and effective vaccines widely available is key to public health, and that alone will relieve much of the concern that many business leaders feel with making decisions about the office. There are other areas where COOs see a need for policy change to bridge the confidence gap. Close to half of respondents (45%) want a government program to fund healthcare costs for workers afflicted with COVID-19, while 42% want liability protection from the spread of COVID-19 and 41% say federal health and safety standards on social distancing in the office would build confidence.
Businesses may see some policy initiatives to support the return to the workplace in a potential additional federal stimulus and relief package. While House and Senate negotiators have yet to reach agreement on timing or actions, proposals include a provision for a workplace safety tax credit for employee protection expenses. Republican proposals to provide liability protection have remained a point of contention between the negotiators. Separately, President-elect Joe Biden has advocated for establishing mandatory workplace safety rules to protect workers from the virus. To date, businesses have been incorporating guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for workplace safety, in addition to complying with state and local rules. Biden’s economic plan calls for expanding the nation’s testing capacity, an emergency paid sick leave program for workers, including contractors and the self-employed, and making testing, treatment and vaccines free for everyone.
As the pandemic resurges, many businesses are likely to continue to delay decisions to return to the office in order to help their workforce feel safe and stay healthy, irrespective of government action that may reduce liability exposure. Those who are able to continue working remotely clearly see less risk in waiting out the public health crisis. A study released this month by the CDC is likely to lend support for this approach for some companies. The agency recommended alternative work site arrangements, if possible, or increasing workplace safety measures, based on findings that adults who received positive test results for the virus were more likely to have gone to an office or a school compared with those who tested negative.
Operations leaders see a mix of regulatory as well as cultural and technology-related barriers to pursuing more flexible work week options for employees. Managing employee productivity in a remote environment continues to be a concern. Over 80% of COOs view apparent shortcomings with remote team collaboration as a barrier to creating more flexible working options, and the same holds for existing employee health and safety regulations.
Many surveys of employee perceptions about working outside of an office environment show strong support for greater flexibility once the pandemic recedes, including findings from PwC’s Remote Work survey in June. Companies that have been slow to invest in technologies that support remote work or reluctant to adopt clear rules and a secure structure around work from home likely found themselves playing catch-up during the crisis. Today, there is growing interest in innovating around satellite locations and office space configurations in order to better serve the needs of a workforce that rotates in and out of the office. Companies seeking to retain hard-won agility during the crisis should consider how they can continue to foster collaboration among employees and help enhance productivity in any working environment.
Dr. Deniz Caglar
Principal, Organization and Workforce Strategy, Strategy&, PwC US
Partner, PwC US
Principal, PwC's Strategy&, PwC US
Principal, Industrial Products, Chemicals and Energy, PwC US