Five insights on what CFOs really think about the future of work

| June 22, 2021

In case you missed it, we recently surveyed 75 CFOs in partnership with Fortune to get to the bottom of what finance chiefs truly think about the return and future of work.

We built upon the initial study and report in a live webinar we conducted on June 16th. This article summarizes the webinar takeaways into five primary points, but before we dive deeper here’s a little bit more about the study.

We surveyed 75 CFOs forming a representative sample of the US economy, everything from banks to energy to healthcare to non-profits; organizations with dozens of employees to thousands of employees. As is standard with our NewtonX process, we verified them to confirm their identity, so that we were 100% sure that they actually were CFOs at their companies.

Here’s the five insights we learned.

Hybrid will be the norm for most companies post-pandemic

It’s no surprise that the pandemic caused most firms to move from an in-person work arrangement to fully-remote or hybrid. This is specifically for professional employees and team members that work behind a desk.

Question: What was your company’s pre-Covid 19 crisis work arrangement for most professional employees?

 

Five insights on what CFOs really think about the future of work

Question: What is your company’s current working arrangement for most professional employees?

Five insights on what CFOs really think about the future of work

While many speculated that the summer months, particularly July, would see a resurgence of firms returning to the office, so far we have not seen this come into fruition with only 1/5th of organizations being fully-in person. 

The rest of the CFOs respondents were evenly split between fully-remote and a hybrid arrangement of between 1 to 4 days a week at the office.

Of the fifth of CFOs that stated they were still fully in-person, many of them were in  energy and healthcare, where remote-work has unique challenges. 

Post-pandemic we learned that a hybrid, 1-4 day(s), in-person arrangements are most likely, 39% of CFOs expect to return fully in-person, but only 25% prefer it. 


Hybrid/remote work has significant challenges, but also positives

Our study revealed many CFOs found remote or hybrid work easier, but also revealed the hurdles in current workplace models. Many appreciated spending less on personal work-related expenses, like commuting or apparel. Many also found it easier to maintain personal autonomy, working more independently and having greater control and productivity in their work-life balance. 

Question: Compare your current work arrangement with your pre-Covid 19 arrangement Scale of 1-10, with 5 being “same/no-change”, 1 being “Current arrangement is much better/easier” and 10 being “Current arrangement is much worse/harder”)

Five insights on what CFOs really think about the future of work

And while the study uncovered many positives around remote work, it also revealed gaps and challenges. While it’s clear that work-life balance is “better” remotely, CFOs reported that networking, managing engagement, establishing a common culture, and supervising others is harder with partial/fully-remote work.

Question: Compare your current work arrangement with your pre-Covid 19 arrangement Scale of 1-10, with 5 being “same/no-change”, 1 being “Current arrangement is much better/easier” and 10 being “Current arrangement is much worse/harder”)

Five insights on what CFOs really think about the future of work

Now, when we look at all of this holistically, we start to see a troubling pattern: greater personal autonomy, less team cohesion, reduced organizational alignment…that doesn’t appear like a recipe for success. ore anecdotally, we’ve heard stories of increased employee churn just as the economy is steadily recovering. When we consider this in unison: decreased employee engagement, increased churn paired with reduced organizational alignment, it appears that the new working norm will look different than whatever we’ve come to know in the past.


How people work when they’re in the office will change

Our learnings taught us that we cannot expect work to return to exactly how it was pre-pandemic. 70% of CFOs want greater flexibility in days worked in-person, but this isn’t about personal preference, it’s about the needs of specific teams. For example, if a specific team is collaborating on a major M&A deal, finance chiefs may want these employees in the office on the same day to maximize productivity. Or perhaps Product and Engineering teams could be back in the office for a day or two to collaborate on the crunch period of a digital transformation project.

Question: How would you like to see your post-Covid 19 crisis work arrangement changed?

Five insights on what CFOs really think about the future of work

Furthermore, finance chiefs desire this in-office time to be focused on in-person meetings, company social events, or other activities that help build a common culture or a vision of grander purpose. 

To summarize, CFOs would rather spend their time in-person talking to people face-to-face, not stuck in an office staring at a spreadsheet, they want to be with their team strengthening relationships and focusing on the work that is done best in-person like workshops or ideation. In short, when they’re in the office it’s all about team-building, when they’re back home, it’s heads-down, deep focus time.

Question: How would you like to see your post-Covid 19 crisis work arrangement changed?

Five insights on what CFOs really think about the future of work

Another key takeaway about the return to office, is this idea that we will have reduced workplace occupancy, that’s to say less density and more personal space for employees. 

But so much of the return to office depends on vaccinations, and while 70% of New Yorkers have had at least one vaccine shot, only 45% of Americans have been fully vaccinated. This begs the question: what happens to people that have NOT been vaccinated, what will the future of work look like for these employees? 


Vaccine passports are a divisive issue

Our study revealed that CFOs are closely split on whether to require vaccination proof for employees before entering the workplace.

The “vaccination passport” or proof of vaccination has become a divisive issue in politics, social settings, and of course, work. The 75 CFOs we surveyed across the country are extremely closely split on whether all employees, except those with medical exceptions, should have proof of vaccination before re-entering the workplace. 48% said they should show proof, but 41% of respondents disagreed, and we saw very few CFOs in the middle. At NewtonX, we asked our own Head of Finance/CFO, Lorenzo Seu, what he felt about vaccine passports, and his answer echoed many of the thoughts we heard from the survey.

“It’s a very polarizing issue and quite honestly one that should not come from the CFO alone, vaccine passports need to be considered by the full breadth of the C-Suite, from the CHRO to the CCO to to the Chief Executive and further. It’s a decision that needs to come from a fully-aligned group of senior executives that carefully weighs the well-being of the organization with the need to preserve an individual’s privacy.

Question: should all employees (except those with a valid medical condition) be required to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination before entering the workplace? 

Five insights on what CFOs really think about the future of work


Downtown won’t be ghost town forever 

As mentioned earlier, most CFOs do expect a fully in-person return to work, with the majority expecting a 1-4 day(s) in-person hybrid model. Despite the shift, there is still good news for commercial real estate, as our study revealed that most CFOs will require a similar amount of office space post-COVID.

Question: do you anticipate shifts in your office space requirements post-Covid when compared to your requirements pre-Covid?

Five insights on what CFOs really think about the future of work

We found that half CFOs don’t expect any significant post-Covid change in their office-space requirements once the pandemic subsides. The 30% that do expect change in office-space requirements think that the change will be within +/- 20%. 

Now recall we mentioned that many CFOs will likely have fewer employees in the office at any given time (less people, more space). This will mean reduced occupancy for many landlords, and does have many implications on the design of workspaces and the commute to work.


In summary, here’s what we learned about the future of work.  

Hybrid will be the norm for most companies: Post-pandemic, 60% expect a hybrid work arrangement. 39% of CFOs expected to return to fully in-person work arrangements for professionals, but only 25% prefer fully in-person work.

Hybrid work has significant challenges, but does have its positives: Work-expenses, autonomy, and work-life balance are better with hybrid & remote-work, but networking, culture and employee management harder 

How people work when they’re in the office will change: Post-pandemic, 70% of CFOs want greater flexibility in days worked in-person with many wanting that organized by dept. or team 

Vaccine passports are a divisive issue: CFOs are closely split on whether employees should show proof of vaccination before entering  the workplace

Downtown won’t be a ghost town forever: most CFOs will need as much office space pre-Covid as post-Covid

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