COVID-19 looks set to further harm secure work, with APAC CEOs reporting they will cut staff and look to contract work in a recent survey in which they also gave themselves top marks for their handling the black swan event. 

Westpac’s Asia Pacific CEO Survey, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and released today,  polled 113 CEOs of mid to large businesses conducted in July and August 2020. The majority of the respondents were from China (25 per cent) and Indonesia (20 per cent) but the poll included at least 15 Australian business chiefs.

Among the findings, which include the expected acceleration of digitisation and remote work, is company leaders’ plan to build “resilience” and “flexibility” into their workforce.

42 per cent of the total respondents said they plan to hire more contract workers in the future, while 38 per cent said they plan to reduce the size of their full-time workforce.

According to the report, the workforce changes are part of a response to the economic downturn of COVID-19, including a 2.5 per cent contraction in GDP growth in Asia and Australasia. Although the region has fared much better than Europe and North America – projected to contract at 7.3 per cent and 4.7 per cent respectively – and GDP growth is projected to return next year.

“Business conditions have since stabilised in much of Asia Pacific, but it is apparent from the survey that many CEOs are looking to inject greater flexibility into their operations,” the report said.

Source: Westpac/Economist Intelligence Unit.

Many of the workers that survive the changes will continue to work from home. 76 per cent of  APAC CEOs said their firms will allow more staff to work from home in the future than had previously been the case. 

According to the report, “This does not mean empty offices; rather, companies are likely to stagger schedules, with most employees spending at least part of the week in the office.” 

Companies will also look to protect their supply chains, which two thirds of CEOs said were disrupted by COVID-19. 

Most firms (57 per cent) have begun to onshore supply and/or manufacturing in response to COVID-19 and 63 per cent expect to continue the practice in the future, according to the CEO responses.

Pat on the back

CEOs gice themselves high marks for how they handled the pandemic. Most say they “thrived on the business challenges posed by the crisis” and 69 per cent report becoming “more resilient leaders” as a result.

Examples of the self-improvements, according to the report, include faster decision making – around 80 per cent of CEOs – and the rapid development of business plans, including those for the “post-crisis environment”.

“While the full effects of the pandemic play out, a new spirit of agility, adaptability, and a resounding sense of resilience can be identified among many organisations and their leaders,” said Westpac Institutional Bank CEO Anthony Miller in a statement accompanying the research.

“I have personally been struck by the resilience and adaptability of many business leaders.

 “I think many individuals and organisations have discovered levels of resilience, agility and strength they didn’t know they had.”

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