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With Businesses Reopening, CFOs Grow Hopeful as Employee Fears Linger, According to PwC Surveys

Originally published on pwc.com.

As US businesses reopen following the long coronavirus-induced shutdown, chief financial officers (CFOs) are coming to terms with a new business environment of lower anticipated revenues and reconfigured workplaces. Yet, companies still face a skeptical workforce who continue to be worried about returning to the workplace safely.

According to PwC’s fifth COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey, 55% of CFO respondents say they are projecting revenue/profit losses to be greater than 10% this year; this figure is up only 2 percentage points from two weeks prior, suggesting that worries about more severe revenue losses are starting to level off. Similarly, expectations of layoffs seem to be holding steady with 31% of CFOs anticipating layoffs in the next month, a 1 percentage point drop from two weeks ago.

The survey findings suggest that the urgency to reduce expenditures and cut costs is also diminishing. While 80% of CFO respondents are considering cost containment measures, this figure is actually down from 86% two weeks ago. In addition, fewer CFOs are anticipating furloughs over the next month (36% vs. 44% two weeks ago).

Other bright spots include the confidence of businesses in their ability to protect their workers. In fact, nearly two-thirds (64%) of survey respondents are “very confident” their company can help create a safe workplace environment for employees. In addition, 83% of respondents anticipate changing workplace safety measures, up 6 points from two weeks prior, and 43% anticipate making remote work a permanent solution for roles that can accommodate it.

However, employers are still likely to face a host of employee concerns about returning to the workplace. For example, PwC surveyed more than 1,100 American workers the week of May 4th. Of those, 39% were forced to work remotely or stop working altogether (but are still getting paid). Within this group, over half (51%) say that the fear of getting COVID-19 would prevent them from going back to the workplace if their employer asked. In addition, nearly a quarter (24%) are unwilling to use public transportation for their commute and 21% cite their responsibility as a parent or caregiver as a reason preventing them from going back to the workplace.

“Given the unprecedented nature of this global pandemic, it is clear that workers are very worried about being able to stay healthy and safe as they are asked to return to their offices and worksites,” said Tim Ryan, PwC’s US Chair and Senior Partner. “The most important thing business leaders can do to address their employees’ worries is to communicate frequently and transparently about how they are working behind the scenes to keep them safe, healthy and employed.”

PwC has created Check-In with Automatic Contact Tracing — a tool that allows companies to help quickly identify and alert employees who may have come into contact with a co-worker at the workplace who has tested positive for COVID-19.

“As more companies reopen, CFOs are coming to terms with a new reality and managing their expectations accordingly,” said Amity Millhiser, PwC’s Chief Clients Officer. “We are seeing many leaders begin to pull back from drastic cost containment measures as they figure out how to operationalize their businesses in a new environment that must take into consideration the calculated risks of operating during this crisis. While their worries are leveling off, this could all change if there is a future spike in infections.”

Additional Survey Results:

Top Finding:

  • For the first time, over half (58%) of CFOs expect it will take at least three months for their company to return to “business as usual” if the virus were to end today.

Revenues:

  • 85% of respondents expect that COVID-19 will decrease their company’s revenue and/or profits this year (up 5 percentage points).
  • 6% of respondents report that COVID-19’s impact on revenue and/or profits is still too difficult to assess at present (down 6 percentage points).
  • 20% of respondents expect a decrease in revenues and/or profits of 25% or more.

Financial Actions:

  • 58% are considering deferring or canceling planned investments (down 12 percentage points).
    • Of these respondents, 80% (same as two weeks ago) are considering delaying or canceling facilities/general capital expenditures.
    • 57% (vs. 62% two weeks ago) are considering workforce investments and 48% (same as two weeks ago) are considering IT investments.

Supply Chains:

  • 52% are planning to understand the financial and operational health of their suppliers.
  • 47% are planning to develop additional, alternate sourcing options for their supply chains (down 9 percentage points).

Workforce:

  • 73% anticipate reconfiguring work sites to promote physical distancing (up 8 percentage points).
  • 58% anticipate changing and/or alternating shifts to reduce exposure (up 6 percentage points).

Positive long-term changes:

  • 72% believe their companies will be more agile and resilient moving forward.
  • 68% cite moving to a flexible work environment has better equipped their companies for the long run.

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