Download the full report
PwC asked CFOs in Belgium to weigh in on the ways in which the current crisis is impacting their workforce and their plans for a post-COVID-19 world.
The fallout from the current economic crisis brought on by COVID-19 is being felt around the world. To gauge the impact on Belgian companies, we’ve launched the PwC CFO Survey Series, consisting of periodic surveys on the effects of the crisis on finance, operations, workforce, supply chains and more.
The fourth edition of the CFO Survey Series explores the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the workforce. PwC asked 28 CFOs of large corporates in Belgium across a variety of sectors to weigh in on ways in which the crisis is affecting the workforce, and their plans and predictions for a post-COVID-19 world.
cite management’s inability to oversee teams working remotely as main challenge
indicate that most employees will continue to work virtually in the short-term
indicate that the pandemic has actually had a positive impact
Each edition of the PwC CFO Survey Series begins with two barometer questions to gauge CFOs’ predictions about the Belgian economy and company revenues over the course of the surveys.
In the latest survey, 57% of CFOs expect Belgian economic growth to decline over the next 12 months, with 14% believing that the economy will contract greatly. This is a somewhat more pessimistic outlook compared to the CFO survey conducted in September 2020.
When asked about the short-term outlook on company revenues, over half of respondents (57%) indicated they expect revenues to remain stable or even increase in the coming six months, while nearly one third (29%) predict revenues will fall by 10% or less. The latest survey results on revenues, from the week of 28 September 2020, are slightly more optimistic than CFOs’ predictions in the previous surveys.
It’s no secret that the financial and operational impact of the COVID-19 crisis has deeply and permanently affected businesses across the globe. While companies recover from the initial shock and adjust to the so-called “new normal,” gaps in operational and procedural efficiencies are being exposed.
What were small cracks pre-COVID have widened into rifts that can no longer be ignored, and organisations are shifting their priorities to fill those gaps. This survey dives into these challenges, with a focus on the immediate and long-term impact on the workforce.
The CFOs in Belgium who participated in the survey were asked how they’re preparing for challenges in the future such as subsequent waves of COVID-19, a recession or the effects of Brexit or the US elections. An increase in remote work emerged as the top priority for 43% of respondents, followed by 29% indicating scenario planning as the main focus of preparation for future challenges.
According to a majority of CFOs in Belgium, 57%, the current crisis has had little or no impact on company operations and the workforce so far this year. Perhaps surprisingly, 7% indicate that the pandemic has actually had a positive impact and productivity is higher than normal.
Michael Van Impe, Expert of PwC’s HR Transformation & Strategy - Management Consulting team explains:
“Overall, some businesses emerged relatively unscathed and are even experiencing growth due to COVID-19, while at the same time, others are suffering heavy losses. This is in line with the recent literature that describes this two-speed economic recovery pattern as a K curve, rather than the V (quick decline, quick recovery), U (slow and gradual recovery) and W (quick recovery followed by a second decline) curves cited earlier in the crisis.”
The sudden shift to remote working brought a whole new set of challenges to companies forced to adapt at a moment’s notice. When asked to rank teleworking-related issues, CFOs in Belgium cite management’s inability to oversee teams working remotely as the main challenge exposed by the crisis. The difficulty teams are having in communicating and collaborating virtually was the next most significant challenge (46%), followed closely by employee mental health issues due to social isolation and/or economic anxiety, according to 43% of respondents.
Sandrine Schaumont, PwC People and Organisation Partner and workforce expert agrees that contrary to popular belief, not all organisations are adequately set up for remote work.
“A lot of companies still don’t have the technology in place to optimise remote working,” explains Schaumont. “Most now have the basics covered, but many people are still required to physically go to the office for procedures like signing documents or running reports because they’re working with legacy systems and have prioritised other issues instead. From a technology standpoint, many companies fall in the middle of the spectrum, making them relatively late adopters. Belgium does not rank highly overall on the list of countries with the most tech-enabled companies.”
Of survey participants, 43% claim that working remotely is having a positive effect on work-life balance. Only 21% feel that it has a negative effect, and over a third (36%) indicate it has no effect on the workforce whatsoever.
According to Sandrine Schaumont, “Overall, people see working remotely as good for work-life balance. They can make time during business hours to run errands, pick up the kids… things that were nearly impossible to do while working onsite. But it’s a double-edged sword. Those same people often struggle with the delineation of work life and home life, and many end up compensating for the errands they run during the day by working longer hours.”
Sandrine Schaumont adds that remote working has blurred the line between work and life, and people struggle with establishing boundaries. “Those who work from home need to discipline themselves. Not necessarily to stick to the job at hand, but rather to draw a hard line when the work day is done.”