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The impact of COVID-19

Complexity demands that we connect more

More cooperation and understanding are needed to respond effectively to rapid changes

The complex issues of our time demand an integrated approach. That is only possible if we communicate openly with each other and establish sustainable relationships. We can only help our clients and solve important problems if we listen carefully to each other, are open about the dilemmas we are facing, are responsive to what drives other people, and trust one another. The COVID-19 pandemic has made that even clearer.

After a year of lockdowns and uncertainty, there are now high expectations of a rapid economic recovery. Through the vaccination programmes we appear to control the pandemic, a new wind is blowing through American politics, the consequences of Brexit have so far been quite modest, and interest rates remain low.

CEOs optimistic about economic recovery

Organisations are once again looking ahead and venturing to make plans, as is shown by our annual worldwide survey of CEOs. Almost three quarters of the more than five thousand directors surveyed said they were optimistic about economic recovery.

At the same time, though, they also realise that the world looks different than it did before the COVID-19 crisis. We have started to live, work, and do business much more in an online environment, and we’ve noticed there are many areas in which things can also be done differently.

Acceleration of the digital transformation and energy transition

CEOs see that the COVID-19 pandemic has speeded things up as regards the digital transformation and the energy transition. They do realise, however, that company culture and people’s creative skills are of great importance too. According to 43% of respondents, they have learned in the past year that – even in a digital world – it’s people who make the difference.

The most relevant developments that we observe

For several years now, we have been using our ADAPT framework (Asymmetry, Disruption, Age, Polarisation, and Trust) to identify how larger societal trends are influencing the strategic agendas of public authorities, companies, and organisations. The most relevant developments we’ve identified are the following:

The climate crisis – The most recent report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN organisation that regularly assesses the risks of climate change, made it clear: the last decade has been the warmest in the past 125,000 years. It is beyond doubt that mankind has contributed to that warming.

At PwC, we believe that business has a key role to play in changing the impact on climate. And we are determined to play our part. That’s why we are making a worldwide science-based commitment  to reach Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

We note that organisations are more aware of their environmental impact. They increasingly realise that they must adapt their strategy accordingly if they are to remain successful in the future.In addition, increasing demands from investors and new legislation and regulations mean that more and more organisations are including the ESG (environmental, social, and governance) factors in their strategy, transformation, and reporting. Besides reducing CO2 emissions, organisations are also paying attention to such issues as biodiversity and the transition to utilising hydrogen as a fuel.

Impact of digitalisation – As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, numerous technical applications have gained momentum in the past year, such as the widespread use of apps, which we’ve gradually come to consider “normal”. 

Once COVID-19 has disappeared, we’ll continue to utilise technology in a way that we weren’t accustomed to before the pandemic. This can lead to higher productivity, but a lot of jobs will also require different skills and a need for upskilling. Cybersecurity also remains an important consideration.

The future of work – One of the biggest challenges of our time is the discrepancy between the skills people have and the skills they need for jobs in the digital world. With effective upskilling and reskilling, many people can remain employed, but this will require intensive collaboration between the political, education, and business sectors.

The extent to which the Dutch labour market undergoes change and we keep as many people as possible on board is closely linked to the dynamics of flexible work and the speed at which the labour force can or must learn new skills. It’s also important for organisations to champion an inclusive company culture, in which there’s a place for everyone. This calls for a different kind of leadership, with a better balance between “hard” and “soft” criteria.

More collaboration and connection is needed

The world has changed at tremendous speed in the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many of us to work from home and put us at a greater physical distance from one another. At the same time, though, it also connected us more. In many places, creative solutions emerged to ensure effective cooperation.

The pandemic also accelerated global developments such as digitalisation and the energy transition. The complex issues of our time demand an integrated approach. That’s only possible if we communicate openly with each other and establish sustainable relationships. The COVID-19 pandemic has made that even clearer.

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Thinking along with our stakeholders

Continuing the dialogue with our stakeholders gives us a better understanding of what matters to our stakeholders, what they expect from PwC and what we need to do to meet those expectations. During discussions in the past year, they clearly indicated that we must engage with them far more, that we must involve them more in our own transformation towards a purpose-led and values-driven organisation, and that we must make clearer how we fulfil our role within society. This compels us to constantly ask ourselves how we can maintain our right to exist in the longer term.

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How we continue to transform 

Global trends and society’s changing expectations are also accelerating our transformation that we initiated a few years ago. More than we sometimes realise, our success is not only determined by ‘what’ we do, but also more over by ‘how’ we do it. By connecting more with the client we have a greater view on their (actual) problem. Together we then can find better, integrated solutions.

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A look at our strategy

The acceleration in global changes caused by COVID-19 has led to a recalibration of our strategic vision. To meet the challenges of our time, be successful and to meet the expectations of their stakeholders, companies and organisations need to build trust and deliver sustainable outcomes. We want to contribute by developing new and sustainable solutions.

We develop these solutions by deploying a wide variety of people in unexpected combinations, by offering quality, our knowledge, creativity, and our ingenuity to look at things from multiple perspectives and by using technology. This way we build trust and create sustainable progress towards a new tomorrow. We call this sum The New Equation.

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Working towards a better world after COVID-19

Now that vaccination programmes seem to have brought the COVID-19 pandemic under control and we are returning to “normal”, we are venturing to look further ahead, and we are asking ourselves what the post-COVID-19 world will look like. That world will not be entirely the same as before. Doing business, working, and living in an online environment have really taken off. Entire sectors and business models have been rendered obsolete or radically altered by the developments. There has been a change in people’s views on what makes businesses sustainably successful, and there is increased public support for strong government.

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Contact us

Jan Willem Velthuijsen

Jan Willem Velthuijsen

Chief Economist, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)62 248 32 93

Renate de Lange-Snijders

Renate de Lange-Snijders

Partner, Raad van Bestuur, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)62 248 81 40

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