Only 6% of Asia Pacific CEOs expect normal work resumption this year

by LYDIA NATHAN / pic credit: KPMG

ONLY 6% of CEOs in the Asia Pacific region predict a return to normal working environment this year, while a majority of 59% say it will only take place next year, according to 2021 KPMG CEO Outlook Pulse Survey.

Its global survey which involved 500 CEOs worldwide revealed that 45% of them did expect to witness a return to normal until 2022, while 31% were of the opinion it could happen sometime later this year.

Additionally, the survey also revealed 61% of CEOs would look for a successful vaccine rollout programme, and wait until at least half of the population has been vaccinated before asking employees to return to workplaces.

It noted that nine out of 10 respondents will require employees to get vaccinated to protect the whole workforce.

KPMG Malaysia managing partner Datuk Johan Idris (picture) said the vaccine programme will undoubtedly give leaders a dose of optimism in preparation for the new reality.

“Unsurprisingly, CEOs want to be confident that their workforce is protected against this virus before making any major business decisions. We can see this in how CEOs are only anticipating returning to business as ‘normal’ in 2022,” he said.

Johan said 2020 saw CEOs being tested as businesses had to adapt to the new normal while subsequently needing to develop creative ways to sustain operations during a period of prolonged uncertainty.

“Now, over one-third of CEOs in Asia Pacific consider their business model changed forever. Business leaders must now seriously plan for the long-term implications of the pandemic and grab this opportunity to redefine what the new normal looks like,” he said.

Meanwhile, the survey also revealed that cyber security was one of the top concerns for CEOs in the region as a risk that could impact growth and operations over a three-year period.

“This could be a result of the rapid turn to remote working in the past year, and we can expect businesses to more seriously consider greater investment and stricter limits to better protect their data and assets,” Johan said.

With the pandemic accelerating the use of technology, CEOs also plan to invest more into areas such as data security measures (63%), digital communications such as video conferencing and messaging capabilities (54%), automation (54%) and customer-centric technologies such as chatbots (53%).

Johan added that 68% of CEOs would like the respective governments to assist in a return to normal working conditions, with concerns that misinformation on the vaccine may prompt some employees not to take it, evident from the 35% who said this was a big concern.

The survey showed 89% of CEOs said public-private partnerships are vital in upgrading the infrastructure around digital and innovation critical for business continuity.

“While the world as we know it may never return to the way we were before Covid-19, it is clear that we must continue to adapt and stay ahead of the waves of change. The time is ripe for us to rethink how we work, live and interact with one another, and restructure and reshape it together, for better,” Johan said.