• Gary Reader, Leadership |

Throughout the past 18 months, the economic impact of the pandemic has threatened the growth of many sectors, and the business leaders’ optimism has understandably waned. If growth is the fuel that feeds the engine of business, the pumps were running low.

In this time, CEOs have dealt with the uncertainty of the pandemic, reassessed the role employees play in the future of their business and figured out how to adapt their operations for growth: hybrid working.

Building a flexible future of work

I believe the future of work is hybrid — and the results of our latest KPMG CEO Outlook show that this is also the perspective of many of today’s CEOs. This year’s survey reveals that global CEOs are listening to their people and creating a more flexible work environment where they can have the convenience of working from home along with the ability to collaborate and work alongside colleagues in the office environment.

To start with, most CEOs are dipping into a deeper pool of talent, with four out of ten (42 percent) relying on the strategy of hiring remote workers. And the flexibility doesn’t stop there: more than one-third (37 percent) of CEOs said that their organization will have most employees working remotely at least two or more days a week.

There has also been an increase in the desire to help employees collaborate more flexibly, with half of respondents saying they will be looking to invest in shared office spaces. This is a significant uptick from our January/February 2021 CEO pulse survey, where only 14 percent noted that they were investing in shared office space.

I believe it’s a sign that hybrid working is likely to be a long-term trend for many organizations as they look to revise their workplace cultures to attract the best talent. And paramount to this culture is the need to invest in digital skills alongside technology modernization. This isn’t simply so that their people can use these new tools, but to help foster a digital-first culture where people naturally look to integrate technology into their work. It’s also important to be resilient in how you help people upskill, ideally through real-time learning interventions delivered without interrupting the flow of their work.

But while employers build a workforce culture that welcomes and grows remote workers, CEOs aren’t abandoning the office. It’s still important to them. Only 21 percent of CEOs plan to downsize (or already have downsized) their physical footprint or office space because of the pandemic, showing they’re more focused on flexibility than wholesale changes to office-based work. This is a steep drop from their perspective at a few months into the pandemic, where 69 percent of CEOs in our July/August 2020 pulse survey were aiming to downsize.

Optimism about the future

When it comes to building up workforces in the months and years ahead, it’s also important that CEOs are optimistic about the growth prospects of the global economy and their own organizations. I believe that the plans CEOs have for their workforce will help fuel their plans for growth.

The latest CEO Outlook shows that global CEO confidence has returned to the levels of early 2020 — prior to the pandemic. For the first time since January 2020, more than half (60 percent) of global CEOs are confident about the growth prospects of the global economy over the next 3 years, despite evolving news around variants slowing down the return to normal.

Businesses that successfully navigated the peak of the pandemic now hope to expand their operations. A large majority of CEOs (87 percent) are positive about their own organizations’ prospects for growth over the next 3 years. In addition, seven out of ten CEOs identified inorganic methods like M&A, joint ventures and strategic alliances as part of their strategies to drive that growth.

And to bring these growth plans to life, companies will need to have the right talent in place. In fact, most CEOs are looking to grow their workforces, with 88 percent planning to boost headcount over the next 3 years.

The last time I wrote about CEO survey, all I knew for certain was that there would be more twists and turns before we emerged from the pandemic. With newly emerging variants and continued global uncertainty, this still rings true — but things are trending in the right direction.

When it comes to powering growth, the pumps are now primed. As business leaders look at how to best position their companies in a new world of work, it’s a chance to actively engage their workforce and put themselves in a strong position to turn their optimism… into opportunity.