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2021 KPMG CEO Outlook Pulse Survey results

CEOs of the world’s most influential companies are planning what the ‘new reality’ will look like post-pandemic. The 2021 KPMG CEO Outlook Pulse Survey finds that almost half of global executives do not expect to see a return to a normal course of business until sometime in 2022, as opposed to nearly one-third who anticipate this will happen later this year. The changes prompted by the pandemic have resulted in one-quarter of CEOs saying that their business model has been changed forever by the global pandemic.

  • Almost half (45 percent) of global executives do not expect to see a return to a ‘normal’ course of business until sometime in 2022, as opposed to nearly one-third (31 percent) who anticipate this will happen later this year.
  • A steep decline in the appetite of global executives to downsize their company’s physical footprint. Only 17 percent are looking to downsize their office space as a result of the pandemic – down from nearly 70 percent last summer as global CEOs reconsider the need for in-person business to resume when countries emerge from the pandemic.
  • With COP26 taking place this year and the US re-joining the Paris Accord, almost half 49 percent of CEOs plan to put in place more stringent ESG practices.

The study conducted by KPMG in February and March of this year asked 500 global CEOs about their response to the pandemic and the outlook over a 3-year horizon. Only one-fifth (21 percent) of businesses are looking to hire talent that works predominantly remotely, which is a significant shift from last year (73 percent in 2020). A vast majority (89 percent) of business leaders are focused on locking in the sustainability and climate change gains their companies have made as a result of the pandemic

Johnny Hanna, Partner-in-Charge of KPMG in Northern Ireland (pictured), said: “It is clear that CEOs are embracing change as they consider the return of employees to the office environment.

“Our research has shown the pandemic prompted many leaders to transform their operating models, accelerate digital transformation and embed a focus on climate change in their companies.

“As the business world takes the next steps towards the new post-COVID reality, it is heartening to see that CEOs are determined to lock in and build on those gains so as to ensure their businesses are primed for future recovery and success.”

CEO Outlook Pulse Survey Key Findings

Global CEOs are less likely to downsize physical footprint compared to 6 months ago

The research finds that only 17 percent of global executives are looking to downsize their office space as a result of the pandemic. In contrast, 69 percent of CEOs  surveyed in August 2020 said they planned to reduce their office space over 3 years, which demonstrates that either office downsizings have taken place or, as the pandemic has drawn on, strategies have changed.

Global executives remain apprehensive about a fully remote workforce

CEOs are considering what the new reality will look like. Post COVID, only three in 10 (30 percent) of global executives are considering a hybrid model of working for their staff, where most employees work remotely 2–3 days a week. As a result, only one-fifth (21 percent) of businesses are looking to hire talent that works predominantly remotely, which is a significant shift from last year (73 percent in 2020).

ESG continues to climb up the corporate agenda

With COP26 taking place this year and the US re-joining the Paris Accord, 49 percent of CEOs plan to put in place more stringent ESG practices. A vast majority (89 percent) of business leaders are focused on locking in the sustainability and climate change gains their companies have made as a result of the pandemic. Nearly all (96 percent) global executives are looking to upweight their focus towards the social component of their ESG programmes.

Cyber security is now the top concern for CEOs

During lockdown, remote working has become the norm, which poses new data security risks to organisations. As a result, global business leaders identified cyber security as the top concern impacting their growth and operations over a 3-year period. Cyber security was named ahead of regulatory, tax and supply chain concerns.

Government and vaccination rates driving decision-making

Three-quarters (76 percent) of CEOs see government encouragement for businesses to return to ‘normal’ as the prompt for businesses to ask staff to return to the workplace. In addition, 61 percent of global executives said that they will also need to see a successful (over 50 percent of the population vaccinated) COVID-19 vaccine rollout in key markets before taking any action toward a return to offices. When employees can safely return to workplaces, one-fifth of companies (21 percent) are looking to institute additional precautionary measures by asking clients and other in-person visitors to inform them of their vaccination status.

About KPMG’s CEO Outlook Pulse Survey

The 2021 CEO Outlook Pulse Survey asks CEOs from the world’s most influential companies to provide their 3-year outlook on the economic and business landscape, as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This Pulse Survey looks at how their views have evolved since September 2020.

Five hundred CEOs from 11 key markets (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Spain, the UK and the US) were surveyed from 29 January–4 March 2021. All respondents have annual revenues greater than US$500M and 35 percent of the companies surveyed have more than US$10B in annual revenue. NOTE: some figures may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.