Executive Summary

When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck, companies faced an unprecedented series of shocks. Customer needs and behaviors morphed overnight as towns and cities emptied, and workplaces shut down.

Technology, business and operating models all struggled as the disruption intensified. Leaders scrambled to scrutinize everything, from how and where employees worked, to how they engaged with customers, to which products and services were viable.

When the virus recedes, its lasting impacts will be plain to see as businesses scrap traditional ways of working, reset their workforce and double down on their technology investments.

As the pandemic progressed, digital touchpoints with customers, employees and suppliers were essential survival tools. Businesses armed with deft, data-driven capabilities won a head start for their survival: Food wholesalers pivoted from restaurant supply to home delivery; sportswear manufacturers produced personal protection equipment for healthcare workers with the help of 3-D printers; electronics companies rapidly repurposed supply chains to produce ventilators with technical designs co-shared across disparate value chains; banks adapted to the rise of a cashless society as people shunned hard currency and digital wallets gained traction; and remote learning supplanted physical classrooms in schools and colleges.

It was crystal clear that those organizations with data mastery at their core were best able to pivot, adapt and reinvent themselves on-the-fly. The future-forward script for businesses everywhere has crystallized: Flexible, data-intensive and digitally oriented ways of working will be indispensable for weathering what’s expected to be a global mega-recession. When the virus recedes, its lasting impacts will be plain to see as businesses scrap traditional ways of working, reset their workforce and double down on their technology investments.

Well before COVID-19 struck, we had been studying the long-term business implications of our expanding digital world. Our findings coalesced in our 2016 “The Work Ahead” report, based on a global study of 2,000 senior leaders. Earlier this year, we worked with Oxford Economics to re-launch the study, with 4,000 C-suite respondents across 15 key industries, throughout the Americas, EMEA and APAC (see methodology, page 11). As the pandemic took hold, we urgently extended our research to assess how the crisis impacted the strategic calculus of leaders at organizations worldwide.

Our interim findings (based on 2,000 survey responses) reveal an executive class grappling with an unprecedented series of shocks, undulating across functional areas and spaces – both virtual and physical. The challenge for leaders is multidimensional and acute. When the virus struck, nearly all businesses (84%) took action of some sort to ameliorate its impact, according to our study. Of those businesses, 9% took significant measures enterprise-wide, while 32% made changes in targeted areas of the business, for a total of 41% (see Figure 1). Some businesses went into survival mode, with plans designed to stave off the most severe impacts of the virus, such as disrupted supply chains or cash/liquidity pressure. Now, decision makers need to assess which imperatives are temporary, and which will persist even after the prolonged pandemic is a distant memory (hopefully soon).

The “Work Ahead” research series, due later this year, will interpret the findings both globally and across individual geographies, industry sectors and technology vectors. In this preview, we’ve analyzed our interim findings to define five key takeaways for how to best prepare for the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis.

COVID-19 disruption demands a plan

Respondents were asked to rate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the question, “How is your business responding to the impact of coronavirus this year?

Taking some significant actions but mostly continuing business as usual

Taking significant actions in some or all parts of the business

Have taken no significant actions but evaluating or planning to soon

Continuing mostly business as usual

Source: Cognizant Center for the Future of Work Response base: 2,000 Figure 1

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