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Future of work: what boards should be thinking about

Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath is one of the biggest business challenges of our time. To keep operations going, most companies adopted new ways of working that left their offices, factories, and stores empty. 

More than a year later, the world looks much different. As business comes surging back, management teams are responsible for leading their companies through these fast-moving changes. Boards of directors also play a role. They need to help management think critically about the development and execution of their return-to-work plans. This starts with understanding the workforce challenges executives face in a post-pandemic world so they can ask the right questions and act as a sounding board.


Reimagining how and where work will get done

As companies look ahead to life after the pandemic, they are choosing among three basic options for returning to the workplace: call everyone back to the office, adopt a hybrid model, or provide more fully remote opportunities. Because the risks COVID-19 poses continue to evolve, companies will need to maintain flexibility in how they reshape the future of work. 

There’s no question that their plans will vary widely. But for those choosing a hybrid model, technology will play a crucial role in its success. So will CIOs as they’re called upon to provide the digital tools to make employee interactions with one another and with customers seamless across all types of environments.  

Going forward, nearly half of CEOs say they plan to increase their long-term investment in digital transformation by 10% or more. That includes technology solutions to support higher levels of remote working, such as productivity analytics and collaboration suites that bridge the gap between people who regularly work in the office and those who work remotely.

US executives planning new investment to support hybrid working

% planning increased investment

Tools for virtual collaboration
IT infrastructure to secure virtual connectivity
Training for managers to manage a more virtual workforce
Conference rooms with enhanced virtual connectivity
Hoteling applications
Communal space in the office
Unassigned (or hoteling) seating in the office

Q: How do you plan to change investment levels, if at all, in the following areas?
Source: PwC US Remote Work Survey
January 12, 2021. Base: 127 US executives

Attracting and retaining talent

One of the main reasons companies are rethinking how and where to work is because so many people want to keep the flexibility they gained during the pandemic. Nearly half (44%) of employees say they want to work remotely three days a week or more post-pandemic. And there are plenty of stories about people willing to leave their jobs to maintain this flexibility rather than return to the office.

This exodus suggests that companies offering a hybrid or fully remote work environment have a competitive advantage in retaining and attracting talent. But it’s important to consider offering more than flexible work arrangements. Other benefits that companies provided to support employees during the pandemic, such as access to mental health resources and childcare coverage, can also serve as attractive perks.

These days, the ability to attract, develop, and retain the best talent has become a critical business differentiator. And the pandemic has only underscored that fact. So, although corporate directors have traditionally focused their oversight of talent management on the C-suite, they need to broaden their efforts.

Our guide, The board’s oversight of talent management, explains how directors can help executives navigate the new talent landscape. And, our Forecast 2021: The crunch for talent podcast offers insights to help you better understand and manage some of the opportunities and challenges your company might face.

Employee preferences for hybrid work are all over the map

All remote
Almost entirely remote (4 days remote)
Mostly remote (3 days remote)
Mostly in office (2 days remote)
Almost entirely in the office (<=1 day remote)
N/A - The nature of my work does not allow me to work remotely

Employee Q: If your employer allowed you to choose when you worked remotely, how often would you want to work remotely after COVID-19 is no longer a concern?
Source: PwC US Pulse Survey, August 19, 2021: base of 1,007 full-time and part-time employees

Maintaining company culture and trust

How and when companies bring employees back will have long-lasting implications for corporate culture and employee trust. If businesses insist that people return to the office, they risk losing talent. If they let employees stay at home, they may have to grapple with maintaining a culture that was established onsite. Either way, companies need to deal with the pandemic’s toll on employees. That encompasses everything from general burnout to the exit of 3 million women from the US workforce. 

Many executives appear to be aware of the stakes. At the beginning of this year, 83% of business leaders in our PwC Pulse Survey expected their revenues to increase in 2021 as the economy continues to recover. More than half of those leaders said taking action on people issues, such as securing talent with technical skills (59%) and stepping up support for burned-out employees (55%), would be critical for capitalizing on that growth.

As people adapt to new ways of working, it’ll be essential for companies to pay careful attention to change management. Bringing everyone through the journey successfully will require careful consideration of how to reshape corporate culture to support new working models.

How to make hybrid work, work

Workforce considerations dominate return to growth strategies

Availability of talent with technical skills (e.g., IT, engineering)
Supporting burned-out, at-risk employees
Schools in our locations fully opened for in-person education
Reducing disruption to our supply chain
Availability of skilled trade labor
Women reentering the workforce
Business travel/in-person events resume
More federal relief for individuals
More federal relief for businesses

Q: How important are the following factors to your ability to prosper this year? (Responses to ‘Very important’)
Source: PwC US Pulse Survey, March 12, 2021: base of 732

Understanding the board’s role

As management teams continue to develop, execute, and readjust their return-to-work strategies, directors can take the following actions to provide valuable oversight: 

  • Make sure you’re getting the data you need to gauge management’s progress and performance on this issue.
  • Check-in with the board committee that oversees talent management to ensure they’re passing on pertinent information to the full board.

  • Give the chief human resources officer high visibility at board meetings.

  • Request regular updates on how competitors are approaching their return-to-work issues.

  • Monitor how management is adjusting its talent strategies on issues such as employee compensation and benefits to stay competitive.

  • Keep tabs on the potential impact of changes in talent strategy on corporate culture. 

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Contact us

Maria Castañón Moats

Maria Castañón Moats

Governance Insights Center Leader, PwC US

Paul DeNicola

Paul DeNicola

Principal, Governance Insights Center, PwC US