Survey results: How are business leaders feeling about the challenges of Covid-19?

In response to the global health pandemic, companies of all sizes quickly implemented every possible measure to protect their people, customers, and ensure business continuity. Now, as UK Government restrictions have started to ease, leaders are shifting their focus to business revival and future opportunities.

To better understand how businesses are preparing for and moving into the ‘new normal’, we conducted a survey aimed at leadership across the UK* to explore working practices, organisational design, decision making, the planning for business recovery, and build a broader picture of sentiment for the future. 

 The longer-term changes shaping the future of work 

The effects of Covid-19 have undoubtedly been disruptive for many and completely reshaped the way people live and work on a day-to-day basis. This quick transition to remote working forced companies to make large-scale changes and is now pushing them to accept different ways to do business.

Our survey findings highlight that the world of work is unlikely to completely return to what it once was. Moving forward, work needs to be done where the customer is, which in some cases may mean physical locations, but will most often be virtual and may require businesses to transition to be more digital/eCommerce focused. 

In addition to the effects on the location of work, other longer-lasting changes and challenges for the foreseeable future include:

•    Ongoing salary reviews of employees asked to work reduced hours
•    The need for more resilient and diverse supply chains 
•    Increased need for skills in technology
•    Learning how best to engage with customers in a virtual world
•    Managing a blended workforce of remote and office-based employees

The likely sustained move to increased remote working will not only mean relationships between colleagues evolve, but so too will the way employees interact with their leadership team. The general success of employees working from home should encourage business leaders to actively hire from the wider talent pool across the country.

Organisational change and transformation 

From our survey, 33% of leaders confirmed that office space will be reduced to a minimum, 45% said there would be a slight reduction, and just 21% there would be no reduction. 

As more employers determine what a return to work may look like, they are considering the health and safety of their people now, and in the longer term, and the effect this will have on productivity and their organisational structure. This includes:

•    Team structures and employee engagement 
•    Effective communication for office and remote employees 
•    Accessing a wider talent pool for remote working
•    Looking at new revenue streams to replace those lost from physical ones 
•    Review of office use 

So, considering people and organisation design, what does the new normal look like for UK businesses? Based on our survey, 72% of business leaders expect there to be more flexibility in the way employees get work done.

However, this does not necessarily mean a complete switch to remote working for all organisations. While 49% of leaders stated that that working from home will form part of their new normal moving forward, many organisations do not expect to make this switch longer term. 

Agile decision making: Shifting behaviours and culture

From our survey, 64% stated that remote processes and procedures have and will continue to reshape working practices in the longer term. 

Throughout this period, leaders have adopted a more agile decision-making process and have been encouraging employees to break down typical chains to help decentralise decision making. This is leading to organisations to challenge themselves to be more outcome-focused over customary KPIs. This requires leaders to consider: 

•    The need for and how to instil autonomy across the organisation
•    Leading the people agenda while driving performance remotely
•    Ground-up feedback and leadership
•    Setting the tone and culture for hybrid teams working onsite and remotely 

The future of business leadership

The challenges surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic have highlighted areas where some leaders have been lacking and that changes need to be made. Based on our survey results, 12% of businesses identified gaps at the executive level and 40% in middle management.

As the world continues to evolve, the skills required by leaders will too. In line with this, 38% of survey respondents said that they will need to employ more people or require different skill sets moving forward. It was also highlighted that senior hiring decisions will need to look beyond location, functional and industry expertise to broader people, strategic and business culture leadership skills. 

Our survey highlighted that throughout this period, communication (53%) was identified as the most crucial skill for leaders to possess, and second to this was empathy (26%). Looking forward, it is believed that adaptability (37%) and emotional intelligence (32%) will be more important for leaders. 

As businesses are shifting their focus to business revival and recovery, leaders should consider the longer-lasting impacts and changes to working practices, the most efficient ways to structure and communicate with teams and customers, as well as focusing on agile decision making.

If you would like to discuss how we can support you at this time, please get in touch for a confidential discussion today. 

*Results based on a survey of 103 UK C-Suite leaders and directors conducted May/June 2020. 

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