Global business leaders believe that growth will return in 2021, and teleworking is here to stay

According to a new global survey by The Conference Board think tank, business leaders believe that leaner, more agile companies will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Respondents suggest that businesses are likely to use more contract workers and fewer permanent staff, and business travel will be reduced in favour of more videoconferencing.

The Conference Board surveyed more than 1,300 CEOs and C-Suite executives about COVID-19's long-term impacts. They see a return to pre-pandemic revenue levels at least a year or more away. More than 40 percent predict a U-shaped recovery, with more sustainable growth resuming by Q4 2020. About a third expect an L-shaped recovery, with sustained growth resuming only in late 2021.

Executives also 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, reflecting a degree of confidence in their ability to manage emerging risks. Nor do most of them think cities will lose their staying power.

Overall, business leaders seem to believe that there will be a swift economic recovery. 47% of CEOs globally believe that revenue will return to pre-COVID levels during 2021, with 62% of European CEOs, and 51% of US CEOs saying that this is likely, compared to 32% of Chinese CEOs. 41% of Chinese CEOs believe that there will be a recovery during 2020. 

European business leaders are most optimistic that growth will continue in 2020, with 55% of CEOs anticipating a U-shaped recovery compared to 50% in both the USA and China. Nearly a quarter of Japanese CEOs expect a W shaped recovery - with a period of growth during this year followed by a second recession in Q4 2020 or Q1 2021. Just 16% of CEOs globally agree with this. 

"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," said 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 ground work for a sustainable growth path in the longer term."

"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," said Chuck Mitchell, a report author and Director of Knowledge, Content, and Quality at The Conference Board. "Post-COVID-19, CEOs expect their organisations to emerge leaner and more agile, redefining how work gets done."