CEOs share their perspectives on COVID-19 business outlook

Deloitte/Fortune survey captures CEO sentiment

In a recent Deloitte/Fortune CEO Survey, CEOs from more than 15 industries share their perspectives about their company’s COVID-19 business outlook.

By Andrew Blau and Lauren Lubetsky

CEO outlook in the midst of COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis is in many ways a catalyst, accelerating certain trends that may have already been in motion before the pandemic and slowing others. How are CEOs responding in the face of unpreceded challenge and opportunity? In a recent Fortune/Deloitte CEO Survey,1 Deloitte’s Chief Executive Program collaborated with Fortune to ask CEOs from more than 15 industries a series of questions about their company’s COVID-19 outlook. Some findings were illuminating, even surprising.

The pandemic is driving a structural shift in work, workforce, and workplace. Surveyed CEOs predict a sustained, structural shift in how and where people work. While CEOs estimate a minority (13 percent) of their workforce was remote precrisis, they project more than a third (36 percent) to be remote even two years out (representing a 177 percent increase). Tech CEOs expect an even more sustained shift, estimating on average that 42 percent of their workforce will be remote in January 2022. This may indicate certain long-held assumptions about remote work—such as the assumption that productivity and efficiency are lower in a virtual environment—have been reset in a matter of months.

CEOs are looking towards new opportunities. Seventy-seven percent of CEOs report that the crisis created significant new opportunity for their company, with an equal number agreeing that their digital transformation has been accelerated by the crisis. Many CEOs are reporting increases in investment—most frequently in workplace safety, technology and IT infrastructure, consumer experience, and innovation.

CEOs have a surprisingly optimistic outlook about how fast their companies return to precrisis levels. A majority of CEOs polled believe headcount and revenue will bounce back by the end of the year, indicating that they don’t see foresee a sustained downturn. Fifty-eight percent believe employment levels will return to prepandemic levels by January 2021, while 51 percent believe revenue will return to prepandemic levels by January 2021. This optimism appears partially driven by a higher representation from certain industries or sectors, such as technology and financial services, that may have been better positioned at the onset to face the pandemic. 97 percent of tech CEOs polled, for example, indicated that they believe revenues will return by June 2022, and 94 percent of them agreed that the crisis created significant new opportunity for their organizations.

The future is still uncertain. While this survey may indicate optimism about the future, there are still many different options for how the future could play out. In The world remade by COVID-19, Salesforce and Deloitte explore various scenarios about how the COVID-19 pandemic could accelerate or redirect social and business changes over the next three to five years. While some leaders may have seemingly more optimistic outlooks, we believe it is important that they consider and prepare for a range of possible futures.


1 Fortune/Deloitte CEO survey, June 2020. N=141 CEOs

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