have reduced office space, are considering it or plan to reduce their real estate footprint
don't have a contingency plan in place in case of supply chain disruption
have raised prices, or are working on plans to do so, to manage higher materials costs
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 Next in work PwC 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.
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.
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.
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.
Elevating collaboration, on and off the computer screen
New widget for a new workplace
Where work happens and who does it, all up for change
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.
Our Next in work PwC 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 Pulse Survey.