Discussions about rebounding from the coronavirus-related closures has been too narrowly focused on the shape of a potential recovery, according to a top executive at PwC — who argues officials aren’t asking the right questions.
According to Bhushan Sethi, the management firm’s partner and joint global lead at PwC, plans to gradually roll back restrictions that have brought economic activity to a grinding halt are too focused on “what letter on a stencil” will fit, and how to characterize the downturn.
“I think its an irrelevant conversation...[about] whether we are in recession or depression, or whether its a V, or W, or swoosh or sine wave,” Sethi told Yahoo Finance in an interview — referring to the shape of an economic upturn, and how long it will take to arrive.
“We are not running our business based off of that, it’s just another external input,” he added. Rather, focus should be on workers and their health — especially their comfort level with returning to a regular routine of commuting and office life, according to Sethi.
“There’s a whole set of measures that our clients can focus on, which is productivity, employee well-being and returning back to a physical workplace,” he added.
‘Throwing words around’
The question is an important one, as states and businesses retool operating models to comply with rules designed to prevent further spreading of a virus that has sickened over 1.4 million Americans.
In the latest of several CFO surveys conducted by PwC, 43% of clients said they are considering making work-from-home permanent with the virus expected to linger indefinitely. Last month, the World Health Organization’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that “this virus will be with us for a long time.”
Meanwhile, polls show widespread unease among workers about the prospect of returning to pre-COVID routines, especially with no treatments or vaccines on the immediate horizon. Even as employers are plotting a way forward, a recent PwC survey revealed that 70% of workers said something is holding them back from returning to the workplace if asked to do so, according to Sethi.
However, there are already big questions about whether the physical workplace is going to play a role in the foreseeable future. That discussion sparks other concerns about spending on personal protective equipment (PPE), testing and screenings, and physical distancing measures that need to be adopted, Sethi said.
Regardless, he insisted that focusing on employees’ mental health is more important as a factor of productivity than output, Sethi said.
“We keep throwing around words like productivity,” he said. Regardless of roles, employers must work in a responsible way to help employees achieve better productivity, even in a home environment.
Coordination with health experts should be a key consideration in shaping decisions employers will make, Sethi stated.
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