How the post-pandemic workplace will operate

May 22, 2020, 7:30 PM UTC

What will businesses be like, after all of this?

We’ve seen firsthand how the pandemic is uprooting business. For me, today marks 10 weeks of remote work. But when we go back to the office, what will the new normal look like?

Fortune Analytics got an exclusive look at Salesforce’s proprietary data to learn how the pandemic is impacting businesses during and after the crisis.

The Customer & Market Insights group within Salesforce regularly conducts surveys among decision makers (director level or higher) on a number of hot business topics. Fortune Analytics got exclusive access to the results of three surveys conducted in April and May.

Here are some of the findings from that data.


The numbers to know 


  • … of business leaders say their company’s priorities have changed a great deal due to COVID-19. 58% said they’ve changed somewhat, 10% said very little, and only 2% said no change.


  • … of business leaders say their top concerns over returning to business as usual are health and safety. That was followed by 38% who cited financial management and cash flow and 27% who cited new laws and regulations.


  • … of business leaders think their organization’s “new normal” will mean more employees working from home.


  • … of business leaders say the biggest challenge to working remotely is productivity and motivation. That was followed by 24% who said connectivity with coworkers and 19% home-office setups.


  • … of business leaders think technology spending at their company will increase because of the pandemic. Only 14% think tech spending will decrease.

The big picture

Tech spending and remote working are set to grow. As the economy contracts, 48% of business leaders say tech spending will increase versus 14% who say it will drop. Much of tech spending will increase because of burgeoning remote workforces. Speaking of WFH: As things return to normal, the No. 1 biggest change businesses see remaining is that work-from-home structure.

Staying connected with staff is the big challenge. Productivity (25%) and communication (24%) issues are the business roadblocks to WFH, decision makers say. Meanwhile, just 16% said access to technology systems was an issue.


A few deeper takeaways

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1. Health and safety is the top concern.

Companies across the country are still figuring out their health and safety policies. They are trying to test employees’ temperatures, require masks, rotate when staff can come into the office, and more. (Only 23% cite access to health care resources as a top concern, though.)

Companies are also worried about figuring out financial management and cash flow, with 38% of decision makers calling it a top concern. Meanwhile, only 22% say hiring or rehiring employees is. It makes sense: They won’t be returning to the same robust economy. The financial strain of this crisis will likely take years to pass. 

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2. Despite budget cuts, tech spending is set to rise.

Companies are scrambling to find ways to cut costs. But even during this massive economic contraction, almost half (48%) of businesses are planning to up tech spending—and only 1 in 7 are planning to cut that back. As companies move more of their workforce to remote, they’re seeing more need to spend on cloud computing and cybersecurity. 

As the crisis lessens, you’d expect more businesses to step back on that tech spending. But it’s quite the opposite. In early April, 19% of decision makers told Salesforce they expected to cut tech spending in the future, but when asked again, later that month, only 14% still expected to do so.

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3. WFH might be here to stay. 

This week, restaurants in Ohio—where I am working remotely from—reopened for dining in. While I’m personally not going to rush back into any Cincinnati chili parlors, it’s a signal that business will eventually reopen.

But business leaders can’t agree on what reopened businesses will look like, or on any one particular change that’s likely to happen: 51% of decision makers are still figuring out how to run a business during the pandemic—let alone think months ahead. 

Around 1 in 4 business leaders do see more employees continuing to WFH once they’ve reopened. Some companies have already committed to that: Twitter has announced that returning to the office will be indefinitely optional for its staff.

(As for those returning to the offices, while decision makers cite health and safety as their top concern, only 8% cite frequent workplace cleaning as part of the new normal. Let’s hope they keep around some disinfectant.)


*Methodology: The Customer & Market Insights group within Salesforce conducted three online surveys of its B2B audience of directors or higher who are decision makers or influencers for business software or applications at their company. The first survey was conducted from April 8 to 10, with 173 respondents. The second survey was conducted from April 24 to 27, with 165 respondents. The third survey was conducted from May 1 to 4, with 176 respondents.  


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