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COO and operations leaders

Latest findings from PwC’s Pulse Survey

COOs plan a big wave of workplace change yet to come

COOs are watching managers and employees renegotiate the very nature of work, as the pendulum swings between return-to-office and remote work. 

The pendulum will come to rest someplace in between, with hybrid workplaces emerging as a new standard. Some 70% of COOs expect some kind of flexible workforce — from fully remote to hybrid — as offices reopen, according to findings from our latest PwC US Pulse Survey.

The bulk of COOs are gearing up for action, with the large majority of respondents ready with plans for office space reductions or remodels, for supply chain adjustments and for outfitting the new workplace with new training and tools. They are ready to pounce with these plans, but given the degree to which the pandemic has had its twists and turns — the latest being the surge of the delta variant  — they have been like runners on the starting blocks, waiting for the gun to fire. As that moment arrives, operations leaders are poised to create some big changes in how work gets done.

An immediate opportunity: The office remodel

We have implemented this
%
Have a plan in place but haven't started
%
Developing a plan
%
Considering a plan
%
We do not plan to do this
%
Unsure
%

Q: To what extent are you considering the following changes to your existing office spaces and real estate footprint? (Responses to ‘Revamping office layouts to create additional collaboration spaces’)
Source: PwC US Pulse Survey, August 19, 2021: COO base of 89

For office space, the future is unwritten

Most operations leaders do have plans to reduce, remake or move their office spaces, and some have already acted, providing a view into business adaptations to new ways of working.

About a quarter of operations leaders say they’ve already made their move, whether reducing office space (26%), revamping office layouts to enable collaboration (25%) or moving their physical locations to leave cities (22%) or situate closer to talent (25%). Hub-and-spoke configurations have been implemented by 22% of operations chiefs.

It’s possible that many COOs who report having made changes may have simply defaulted into a decision by, say, a lease that expired over the term of the pandemic. 

Otherwise, companies that are clear about their vision and invest in upgrades for new hybrid approaches will have an advantage, getting a running start over competitors who are drifting. Even better off will be those who can act while offices are still empty, making upgrades without interrupting operations.

Office space reductions loom, just not yet

We have implemented this
%
Have a plan in place but haven't started
%
Developing a plan
%
Considering a plan
%
We do not plan to do this
%
Unsure
%

Q: To what extent are you considering the following changes to your existing office spaces and real estate footprint? (Response to ‘Reducing total office space’)
Source: PwC US Pulse Survey, August 19, 2021: COO base of 89


Supply chain tumult not yet tamed

The survey’s data reflect that supply chains have not yet been reorganized after having been thrown into disarray by the pandemic and creating the enduring shortages in products we still see nearly a year and a half into the pandemic.

This points to two opportunities. Suppliers that can demonstrate their ability to service orders effectively — and sustainably — can win new customers, and companies that get their supply chains worked out and humming will have an advantage over rivals.

By contrast, 60% of companies surveyed don’t have contingency plans in place or haven’t yet launched them in case of supply chain disruptions — a data point that perhaps provides insight into why there are still shortages of everything from cars to computers and why there are still gaps on some supermarket shelves.

The lack of access to materials and inputs into products is likely to create further price inflation, with 84% of COOs saying they have implemented or are in some stage of planning price increases to manage higher materials costs.

Another scarcity: workers. Dovetailing with findings about labor shortages and turnover, just over half of operations leaders have a plan or have implemented accelerating investments in robotics/automation due to labor supply constraints.

A clear plan to fix supply chain issues remains unclear



Note: Does not include ‘Unsure’ so totals may not add to 100%.
Q: To what extent are you considering the following changes in your operations with suppliers?
Source: PwC US Pulse Survey, August 19, 2021: COO base of 89

Collaboration tools now as critical as customer-facing tech

COOs recognize the degree to which their employees need to stay connected to one another and to customers in remote and hybrid work environments, and they’re willing to invest to boost collaboration.

Companies have always been willing to spend on interactions with prospects and customers; those relationships are tied to revenue. And given the challenges of virtual selling, operations leaders plan to invest to improve their remote selling and customer services.

But now we see a shift. Executives in even greater numbers know they need to get internal collaboration right as well. That includes tools, but it’s not all about “screen time.” In fact, management training and support for employee networking are top of mind, and almost a third of COOs are making investments into employee well-being programs or have remodeled their office space to foster social connections. They’re also investing in automation tools to get employees out of manual work, freeing them up for higher value strategic efforts.

New workplaces = New training and new tools


Elevating collaboration, on and off the computer screen

Leadership coaching for managers
%
Dedicated quiet time for employees to be "heads down" working
%
Investment in employee well-being programs
%
Opportunities for employees to collaborate and network with other employees
%

New widget for a new workplace

Digital tools for virtual collaboration
%
Digital tools to enhance interactions with customers
%
Automation to reduce manual work
%

Where work happens and who does it, all up for change

More reliance on offshore delivery centers
%
More outsourcing to third parties
%

Q: Looking forward, which of the following are you planning to provide to your employees to help them be more productive given new ways of working? (Select all that apply.)
Source: PwC US Pulse Survey, August 19, 2021: COO base of 89

Where COOs can step out

Operations leaders know the workplace world is changing and are at the ready to innovate and transform. A wait-and-see strategy has likely served them well in the ambiguity of the pandemic, and those who made big pronouncements about back-to-work or going fully remote have found themselves recalibrating. However, the current moment also suggests an opportunity for those who can see where the debate is settling, and they can move from planning to bolder action. Those who hesitate or are still waiting to develop plans risk falling behind their competitors.  

There are many quick wins that can be captured today.

About the survey

Our latest PwC US Pulse Survey, fielded August 2 to August 6, 2021, surveyed 89 operations leaders from Fortune 1000 and private companies, along with other C-suite executives, about business priorities and decisions they’re making around the future of work. Find all of these insights in our PwC US Pulse Survey

Contact us

Matthew Comte

Matthew Comte

Operations Transformation Practice Leader for Consulting, PwC US

Dr. Deniz  Caglar

Dr. Deniz Caglar

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

Ed Faccio

Ed Faccio

Partner, Real Estate Strategy and Transformation, PwC US

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