Survey Outlines CEOs’ Expectations On Post-Pandemic Recovery, Corporate Transformation

Looking beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey of CEOs and c-suite executives conducted by the Conference Board, found that they expect the pandemic to lead to leaner and more agile companies as businesses emerge from the crisis using more contract workers and fewer permanent staff, and business travel is reduced in favor of more videoconferencing.

Executives surveyed say this crisis will compel them to accelerate their digital transformation plans and rethink their business models. Also, they do not see an increased urgency around the long-term restructuring of supply chains, which the Conference Board notes reflects a degree of confidence in their ability to manage emerging risks, nor do most of them think cities will lose their staying power.

“In the short term, preparing for growth and recovery will require finding the right balance between conserving cash and investing in the innovations needed to succeed in a new commercial landscape—the next normal, if you will,” says Chuck Mitchell, a report author and director of knowledge, content, and quality at The Conference Board. “Post-COVID-19, CEOs expect their organizations to emerge leaner and more agile, redefining how work gets done.”

The 1,300 CEOs and executives polled by the Conference Board about COVID-19’s long-term impact expect to see a return to pre-pandemic revenue levels at least a year or more away. More than 40 percent of CEOs globally anticipate a U-shaped recovery—an extended contraction in third quarter with growth resuming by fourth quarter. Europe is most optimistic; 55 percent of CEOs in Europe see a U-shaped recovery as the likely scenario, and in both the U.S. and China, slightly more than 40 percent of CEOs anticipate a U-shaped recovery. About a third expect an L-shaped recovery, with sustained growth resuming only in late 2021. Nearly a quarter of U.S. and Japanese CEOs expect a W-shaped recovery—second contraction in latter half of 2020. Globally, just 16 percent of CEOs see this as likely. Among the CEOs surveyed just 11 percent expect a V-shaped recovery—a fast recovery in third quarter—although, notably, 21 percent of Chinese CEOs predict a V-shaped recovery.

“While business leaders are navigating through the many disruptions and uncertainties brought on by the global pandemic, they are focusing on shaping long-term growth strategies in a post-pandemic world,” says Ataman Ozyildirim, a report author and global research chair of The Conference Board. “Even though they expect their business revenues to recover slowly and not fully before the end of 2021, their focus on accelerating digital transformation and innovating new business models to serve their customers could lay the groundwork for a sustainable growth path in the longer term.”

The survey found that 47 percent of CEOs globally predict pre-COVID-19 revenue levels will return sometime in 2021. In Europe, 62 percent of CEOs see this as likely, in the U.S., it’s 51 percent, and in China, it’s a position shared by 32 percent of CEOs although 41 percent expect an earlier recovery in 2020.

CEOs plan to emerge from the pandemic with more contract and gig workers and fewer permanent, in-house workers; more flexible work hours and more permanent telecommuting; the adoption of new work policies to include more flexible hours; and a permanent increase in the number of employees who can work remotely.

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