Employers Say They’ll Reopen Safely; Workers Say ‘Show Me’

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CFOs see the initial round of frenetic activity spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic as settling down. In its place is a new, challenging business environment that’s characterized by lower revenues and reconfigured workplaces. But as anxious as some executives are to “get back to business,” safety concerns have made the workforce more hesitant.

According to PwC’s latest COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey, much financial bleeding may have stopped, but there’s still significant work to do before the patient can get back on their feet.

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Even though 64 percent of CFOs surveyed are “very confident” their company can provide a safe work environment, 50 percent of employees say they’ll stay away from their workplace because they fear the virus. Some 24 percent won’t use public transportation for their commute, and 21 percent said their responsibilities as a parent or caregiver would prevent their return on-site.

“Given the unprecedented nature of this global pandemic, it is clear that workers are very worried about being able to stay healthy and safe as they are asked to return to their offices and worksites,” said Tim Ryan, PwC’s U.S. Chair and senior partner.

Businesses seem to understand the challenge. Nearly three-quarters of CFOs, 73 percent, plan to reconfigure their work sites to promote physical distancing, an increase of 8 points from the survey fielded two weeks ago. Some 58 percent may change or alternate shifts to minimize exposure, and 43 percent anticipate making remote work permanent where they can.

Interestingly, 68 percent believe moving to a flexible work environment has better equipped their businesses for the long term.

Speaking to reporters, Ryan said many corporate leaders believe that safety measures they’ve introduced—such as face masks, temperature checks and distancing on the factory floor—have been effective. “While not perfect, what we’re hearing is that when they are practiced with the seriousness with which they’re intended, they are generating good results,” he said.

Angst Levels Off

Looking at business in general, 55 percent of CFOs anticipate revenue or profit losses of more than 10 percent this year. Since that figure’s only 2 points higher than the level measured two weeks ago, PwC suggests it indicates worries about severe revenue losses are leveling off.

A similar dynamic is evident in terms of layoffs: About 31 percent of CFOs anticipate layoffs in the next month, a 1 point drop from the previous survey. Overall, 80 percent are weighing cost containment measures, down from 86 percent, and 36 percent expect impose worker furloughs over the next month, down from 44 percent.

“We are seeing many leaders begin to pull back from drastic cost-containment measures as they figure out how to operationalize their businesses in a new environment that must take into consideration the calculated risks of operating during this crisis,” observed PwC Chief Clients Officer Amity Millhiser.

However, she added, “while their worries are leveling off, this could all change if there is a future spike in infections.”

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