The 'new normal' really is the new normal says PwC

The shift to remote working and automation are not temporary according to a new survey of global CEOs

The 'new normal' really is the new normal says PwC
Steve Randall

Along with ‘unprecedented’, the phrase ‘new normal’ has become one of the most overused of 2020, but it comes with a sense of being temporary.

While we talk about the new normal, in the back of our minds is the hope for a vaccine that will rid us of the virus and return us to the ‘old normal’ by Christmas, or next summer, or…

But according to some of the most senior business leaders in the world, a return to how things were before lockdown and facemasks were the words we uttered most, is unlikely.

The change is here and it’s here to stay.

Asked by PwC for views on their future planning, operations, and investments, the 699 CEOs were clear on how the pandemic has shifted attention and intention.

Almost 8 in 10 respondents said that moves towards remote collaboration, automation, and fewer people working in offices, are here to stay, while 60% said that the pandemic has accelerated a move to a more digital business model.

Fifty-eight percent of CEOs say ensuring supply chain safety will remain a focus, driving technology investments to enable tracking of products from production to delivery, and to ensure their suppliers and partners are resilient during crises.

"Business leaders need to simultaneously keep their company running today and fundamentally rethink their strategy for tomorrow, so they come out of the pandemic ready to reconfigure their business to thrive in a very different world,” said Bob Moritz, PwC International’s global chairman. “And they need to do that, thinking not just about the COVID-19 acceleration of change in society and the rising expectations of their broader stakeholders, but also the other issues that are going to fundamentally reshape the future of business - from climate change to populism.”

Almost two in five CEOs believe there will be a permanent shift towards onshoring and insourcing, and a similar share expect an enduring increase in nationalism.

Flexible working
The largest single shift driven by the pandemic has been remote working.

Moving to a more flexible approach to working practices has been a trend for some time of course, but an unintended consequence of lockdown measures is the benefit that many businesses have seen from flexible working arrangements.

However, there is risk for businesses from increased remote working, as highlighted in a report about its adoption in the financial services industry.

The pandemic has also forced businesses to focus on employee support measures including health and safety (92%), well-being (61%) and financial support (24%).

Forty-two percent of the CEOs polled said their businesses made contributions to community organisations and almost a third (32%) of business leaders reduced their own pay.

"The accelerated shift to flexible working has been valuable for many companies,” said Bhushan Sethi, joint global leader, People and Organisation, PwC US. “Whatever new models emerge, it's clear that employee-oriented policies that invest in safety, protection and well-being could become the new differentiator for recruitment, retention and company reputation."