Majority of CEOs don’t expect a return to ‘normal’ until 2022

  • KPMG’s global survey finds nearly two-thirds of CEOs will look for a successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout before returning to the office
  • Nine out of 10 leaders intend to ask their employees to report when they have been vaccinated in order to protect the wider workforce

PETALING JAYA, 29 March 2021 — In a global survey involving 500 CEOs worldwide, 45 percent do not expect to see a return to ‘normal’ until sometime in 2022, while nearly one-third (31 percent) anticipate it will happen later this year. Interestingly, only 6 percent of CEOs in Asia Pacific predict a return to ‘normal’ by this year with a significant majority (59 percent) envisioning it will only happen in 2022.

The 2021 KPMG CEO Outlook Pulse Survey also found that nearly two-thirds (61%) of CEOs will look for a successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout – where at least half of the population is vaccinated – before asking their staff to return to offices. Nine out of 10 leaders intend to ask their employees to report when they have been vaccinated in order to protect the wider workforce.

“The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is providing leaders with a much-needed dose of optimism in preparation for the new reality. Unsurprisingly however, CEOs want to be confident that their workforce is protected against this virus before making any major business decisions. We can see this in how CEOs are only anticipating returning to business as ‘normal’ in 2022,” commented

Datuk Johan Idris, Managing Partner of KPMG in Malaysia.

“Last year, CEOs were put to the test to adapt their businesses to the ‘new normal’ and develop creative ways to sustain operations in a period of prolonged uncertainty. Now, over one-third of CEOs in Asia Pacific consider their business model changed forever. Business leaders must now seriously plan for the long-term implications of the pandemic and grab this opportunity to redefine what the new normal looks like,” he added.  

Key insights from Asia Pacific:

  • The impetus to return to ‘normal’
    • 68 percent of CEOs want to see government encouragement or enablement as a prompt to return to a normal course of business. CEOs are also worried that misinformation on the safety of the vaccine would cause their employees not to take it, as 35 percent considered this their most pressing concern regarding vaccine distribution.
  • Growing need for public-private partnerships
    • 82 percent of CEOs agree that public-private partnerships are crucial in regard to upgrading the infrastructure around digital and innovation critical for business continuity, and that it cannot be achieved by one country or company alone.
  • Focus on technology continues to accelerate
    • The pandemic continues to intensify business leaders’ commitment to digitization. CEOs are planning to invest more in technologies such as data security measures (63 percent), digital communications such as video conferencing and messaging capabilities (54 percent), automation (54 percent), and customer-centric technologies such as chatbots (53 percent).
    • While 69 percent indicated they are prioritizing technology investments as a result of pandemic implications, at least 50 percent are thinking of long-term cost savings.
  • Cyber security risk once again a top concern for CEOs
    • Business leaders have identified cyber security as the top concern impacting their growth and operations over a 3-year period. This could be a result of the rapid turn to remote working in the past year, and we can expect businesses to more seriously consider greater investment and stricter limits to better protect their data and assets.
  • Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) continues to climb up the corporate agenda
    • ESG issues are still a concern for CEOs as a vast majority (98 percent) of business leaders are focused on locking in the sustainability and climate change gains their companies have made as a result of the pandemic. Nearly all (99 percent) are looking to upweight their focus towards the social component of their ESG programs.

Datuk Johan concluded, “While the world as we know it may never return to the way we were before COVID-19, it is clear is that we must continue to adapt and stay ahead of the waves of change. The time is ripe for us to rethink how we work, live and interact with one another, and restructure and reshape it together, for better.”

Learn more about the 2021 KPMG CEO Outlook Pulse Survey at

About KPMG’s CEO Outlook Pulse Survey

The 2021 CEO Outlook Pulse Survey asks CEOs from the world’s most influential companies to provide their 3-year outlook on the economic and business landscape, as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This Pulse Survey looks at how their views have evolved since July/August 2020.

Five hundred CEOs from 11 key markets (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Spain, the UK and the US) were surveyed from 29 January–4 March 2021. All respondents represent organizations that have annual revenues greater than US$500M and 35 percent of the companies surveyed have more than US$10B in annual revenue. NOTE: some figures may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.

© 2023 KPMG PLT, a limited liability partnership established under Malaysian law and a member firm of the KPMG network of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative ("KPMG International"), a Swiss entity. All rights reserved.

KPMG International Cooperative (“KPMG International”) is a Swiss entity.  Member firms of the KPMG network of independent firms are affiliated with KPMG International. KPMG International provides no client services. No member firm has any authority to obligate or bind KPMG International or any other member firm vis-à-vis third parties, nor does KPMG International have any such authority to obligate or bind any member firm.

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