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CFOs optimistic but expect fewer workers, less office space in 2021: Deloitte survey

·Editor focused on markets and the economy
·3 min read
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Chief financial officers are far more optimistic about 2021 than they were last quarter, according to a new survey by Deloitte, which revealed how certain work trends associated with the COVID-19 pandemic may persist, even as the economic threat from the virus slowly recedes.

Deloitte’s first-quarter CFO Signals survey, which gauges over 100 of North America’s top financial officials, found that 67% of CFOs are “somewhat or significantly more” positive about what 2021 has in store for their companies.

With markets hitting new highs as mass vaccination efforts in the U.S. hit their stride, Deloitte found that annual revenue expectations hit their highest levels in a decade. Meanwhile, 29% rate the recovering U.S. economy as “good” — up sharply from 18% in Q4.

However, the impact from COVID-19 restrictions that forced many white-collar employees to work remotely — leading to dramatic shifts in productivity, consumption and consumer behavior — are unlikely to abate anytime soon.

Deloitte’s survey found that the overwhelming majority of CFOs (73%) expect travel expenses to fall by at least 50%, underscoring how remote applications like Zoom (ZM), Slack (WORK), Skype (MSFT) and G-chat (GOOG, GOOGL) have become de rigueur in the work-from-home revolution — and are likely to outlast the pandemic.

In the face of worries from Wall Street titans like JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Goldman Sachs (GS) about the impact of telecommuting ad infinitum on work culture, nearly half of the executives surveyed by Deloitte expect fewer employees on site for a full work week. That poses major implications for offices in big cities that remain mostly vacant since the pandemic was declared in March 2020.

“There’s no question about it. Most CFOs expect to have a significantly lower footprint in office space, and we see that trend continuing,” Steve Gallucci, Deloitte’s U.S. national managing partner and head of its CFO program, said on a conference call with reporters.

Office workers wearing protective masks, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, work at a business building in Tokyo, Japan November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Office workers wearing protective masks, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, work at a business building in Tokyo, Japan November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The study’s findings complemented a separate study by Indeed.com, which recently found that remote job postings doubled over the last year.

“Postings are more than twice as likely to mention remote work now as before the pandemic,” said an Indeed blog post published on Wednesday.

“While remote work remains unfeasible in many areas, like food service and beauty & wellness, it has increased dramatically in sectors where it had been rare, like therapy, finance, and law,” it added.

In fact, a small but growing number of CFOs expect to ramp up hiring and hike salaries, according to Deloitte’s data. Expectations for hiring rose to 2.7% from 1.7% in Q4 of 2020 — led by the U.S., with domestic wages rising by 3.1% in the world’s largest economy.

Sentiment was even more constructive for China, where 51% of those surveyed rate the economy as good, and 53% expect the world’s second-largest economy to be “better or much better” in a year.

However, Europe — where COVID-19 continues to rage and the continent’s efforts to mass inoculate the public have stumbled badly — isn’t expected to fare as well. Seven percent of those asked felt Europe was doing well, while 48% see it as bad. Those impressions improve for next year, with 36% seeing conditions improving.

Javier David is an editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow Javier on Twitter: @TeflonGeek

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