Managing the Covid-19 crisis: The ongoing impact

Businesses are beginning to see a way out of the Covid-19 crisis, according to the results of the latest Eden McCallum Covid-19 survey of business sentiment. This survey, which launched as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna made their vaccine announcements, is the sixth in a series that began in April and it shows that business leaders have a guardedly optimistic view of their future prospects. But they are also keenly aware of the difficulties that disrupted working patterns have caused.

Over 200 UK and international business leaders responded to a series of questions in the first half of November. The survey reveals that:

Optimism about a recovery in performance has picked up quite sharply. While 62% of respondents in September thought that a return to “normal” trading was still over a year away, that has now dropped to 40%. Similarly, while in September 48% of businesses expected a fall in 2020 revenue of over 20%, now only 37% hold that view.

60% of businesses expect that recent announcements about forthcoming vaccines will have a positive impact on performance in 2021, while almost 40% do not expect any significant change.

Prospects for redundancies have also improved: 56% of respondents have already or plan to make staff redundant, a decrease since September, when the equivalent figure was 70%.

But while business leaders seem to be more hopeful about the next few months, they have had to recognise that remote working has had a big impact on their colleagues.

The majority of business leaders report that remote working has had a negative impact on their colleagues’ well-being/mental health, morale, motivation, and collaboration. Only on the questions of work-life balance and productivity do respondents find a positive impact of widespread working from home. Interestingly, bosses are more positive about the impact of remote working on themselves personally, but believe the new conditions have been tougher for their colleagues.

The deterioration in perceptions about remote working from May to November is stark.  According to respondents, the impact on communication and collaboration has moved from a net positive figure in May (24% and 12%, respectively) to net negative in November (-11% and -35%, respectively). What is more, the impact on motivation and morale has become significantly more negative between May (-5% and   -16%, respectively) and November (-39% and -53%, respectively). The one consistent benefit over this period has been the impact on work-life balance (virtually unchanged at 35% and 37% net positive).

There is also a significant gender split in the findings. Women are much more positive about the impact of remote working than men, with some of the biggest differences being displayed in areas such as decision making and communication.

Travel to work times reveal a divide as well. Those who previously had a long commute (over 60 minutes) have enjoyed the benefits of having more control over their time, and are more positive on every dimension, particularly productivity.

Lastly, respondents living with young children have reported a much more positive impact on productivity and work-life balance since May, as schools have reopened.

Sara Ghazi-Tabatabai, an Associate Partner at Eden McCallum, says: “It is encouraging to see some light appearing at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel. Some of the most negative trends – such as expectations about redundancies, revenue decline and time to return to ‘normal’ – are improving after months of decline.”

Dena McCallum, co-founder of Eden McCallum added “what is really striking though is the deterioration in views about remote working over the past six months, which will lead business leaders to revisit the role of the office before they tear up their leases.  Also striking are the findings that women are much more positive about remote working on all dimensions than men, but particularly in terms of decision making and communication. These findings should raise fundamental questions about the workplace and its impact on gender equality.”

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