During 2021, the Capita Institute is asking senior decision-makers critical questions relating to the state of their organisations as we emerge from the pandemic. We explore their responses in this brief summary.

Our great opportunity debate research, conducted in partnership with YouGov, surveys over 350 senior decision-makers across multiple sectors (financial services, government and critical infrastructure), taking the pulse of the business community and seeing how they have been coping with the challenges of the past 15 months. What has really changed for them, and what steps are organisations taking to build back? We’re producing in-depth analysis for each quarter of 2021 and our second insights report has just landed.

In our first pulse findings, published in March, we found that the majority of our respondents felt that 2020 had been a negative year for them and for their organisations. Unsurprising, given that the survey took place between 14th and 31st January, while the UK was deep into its third national lockdown.

In this second pulse, available to download now, we focused on the first quarter of 2021. The research took place between 22 April and 5 May 2021, when the context for the pandemic had shifted dramatically, with vaccinations being rolled out widely and restrictions lifting. Responses were a lot more optimistic. Change remained a constant, with 78% of respondents sharing that they had continued to experience change across their industries. According to our research, the biggest challenges facing industries are Covid-19 and Brexit, as well as competitive pressures from rivals, the economic uncertainty and adjusting to new ways of working.

As well as tracking sentiment quarter on quarter, in Pulse 2 we took a deeper dive into some of the themes that emerged from the results of the first pulse.

The future of work is hybrid

With the effects of the pandemic still being felt, changes to ways, locations and patterns of working were the changes most noticed by our survey respondents – 64% of respondents cited the disruption of working locations and patterns as being the key contributor to the change they experienced in the last three months. One C-Suite professional from financial services told us, “I think some people expect once we're all fully vaccinated everything returns to the pre Covid-19 world. It won’t.”

Across the board, responses showed most had experienced changes in working patterns. The main measures that organisations are taking to facilitate the return to work tend to involve practical solutions, such as reconfiguring or cleaning the workplace, and the most popular approach is a hybrid model, with many taking a phased approach to the return to the workplace.

The productivity debate continues

Quality of outputs and efficiency are the top two descriptors used by decision makers when describing what productivity means to them, and over the last three months, respondents would rate their personal productivity at a net positive (+38% on a total level).

In fact, in 2021 productivity actually appears to be on the up, with more than half of the sample believing themselves to be more productive now than they were in 2020. When asked about whether these changes to personal productivity are likely to be short term or long term, most believed they would be maintained in the long term. When it comes to how their organisation thinks about productivity, efficiency seems to be valued over and above quality of outputs, which is in contrast to the personal view.

An understanding of how to use data has been key

Senior decision-makers across industries believe the use of data in their organisation is important and for some this is a considerable change. “The single biggest challenge for my organisation in the next six months is data,” one senior director told us. As we emerge from the pandemic, 86% of respondents believe that the informed use of data and building data literacy will be important to drive decisions in their organisations.

When our respondents were asked to what extent, if at all, their organisations had a data-driven view of their customers or citizens, 42% of senior decision makers from the financial services sector believed they have a very strong, rich data-based view. In comparison, only 25% of respondents from government felt this way.

Inequalities have been magnified

When it comes to the initiatives launched by organisations, gender and racial equality are the most likely to have been introduced across all sectors. Since the onset of the pandemic, the majority of decision makers in the financial services industry have seen their organisation place more of a focus on social value, compared with just under half of government decision makers (46%), and a third of those working in critical infrastructure (34%). Across the board, digital inclusion and financial support initiatives are most likely to have been launched as a response to Covid-19.

In terms of how much the impact on local community is affected by regional presence, decision makers in financial services and government are most likely to have seen change (62% and 68%), compared with less than half from the critical infrastructure sector (46%).

Supporting mental and physical wellbeing

The state of physical wellbeing over the last 12 months has been roughly in line with mental wellbeing, with 44% citing good health for the latter, and 42% for the former. Provisions and initiatives are available for the vast majority and 37% of respondents told us that they would be open to leaving an organisation if there was inadequate support for mental health (28% said the same for physical health).

The majority of business leaders surveyed would describe their organisations’ dealings with wellbeing and mental health throughout the pandemic as good, in comparison to before. On a total level, 15% of decision makers believe their organisation has responded poorly to any physical health issues throughout the pandemic (this rises to 23% among those in critical infrastructure).

It’s clear from our Pulse 2 research that there is a sense of cautious optimism returning as the recovery evolves. The pandemic is still very much part of our lives, of course, but business leaders are taking steps to ensure that their organisations and individuals are able to adjust to the world in which we now live – and, ideally, to thrive.

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