Finance executives in the United States rank safety of employees and customers as their greatest pandemic-related business concern as some return mainly or entirely to traditional, on-site operations, according to a third-quarter survey.
Supplemental questions in the AICPA Business and Industry Economic Outlook Survey, released Sept. 3, dealt with how companies are thinking about remote work and office space plans for the next 12 months.
Optimism rose among finance executives from the second quarter to this quarter, but it remains lower overall compared to the start of 2020, before COVID-19 disrupted business globally. U.S. finance leaders in the survey listed domestic economic conditions as their top challenge. Related to the pandemic, their top concerns for the next year are:
- Safety of employees and customers, 33%
- Uncertainty over stay-at-home restrictions, 29%
- Customer demand/ability to pay, 22%
Cash and financing challenges ranked a distant fourth, at 5%, followed by integrity of supply chain.
To address safety, 74% of companies plan to mandate masks in the workplace, 71% are providing socially distanced workspaces, and 64% are providing personal protection equipment. About half, 52%, said they plan to screen workers daily for the coronavirus (see chart below).
Half of respondents said their companies plan to return principally or entirely to traditional on-site operations, depending on government restrictions. Twenty-two percent said company operations would be mainly remote, and 9% said they planned to be completely virtual. Fifteen percent said remote work was not an option for their organization.
The survey shows that, so far, the physical office remains part of companies’ plans, as 77% said they expected no change to their office footprint in the next year. Eighteen percent said they expected some consolidation, and 5% said they expected to give up at least half of their office space. Another 5%, meanwhile, plan to increase their office footprint.
“Many companies were forced abruptly into remote work situations by the pandemic and performed surprisingly well,” Ash Noah, CPA, CGMA, managing director of CGMA learning, education, and development for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, said in a news release. “The crisis accelerated the virtual teams and remote trends already underway. We will see businesses being more flexible in their approach and adopting a hybrid operating model that will become more commonplace over the next few years.”
The “other” responses included:
- Splitting our employees into pods that do not physically interact.
- Posting significant signage to promote safety and distancing.
- Restricting access to outside vendors/customers to essential interactions.
- Discontinuing vending services/coffee and water fountains.
- Implementing paperless transactions.
- Adopting more virtual sales tools.
- Providing additional cleaning and sanitation.
— Neil Amato (Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com) is a JofA senior editor.