More than a year after Oracle NetSuite's "Unlocking Growth" report found nearly universal confidence across businesses in the EMEA region, surprising little has changed.
Despite a global pandemic that's finally slowing in much of the world, companies throughout EMEA remain bullish on the future, albeit slightly less so in the last report, according to the latest NetSuite report, "The State of Growth: Responding With Confidence to a World in Flux."
NetSuite chose this moment to revisit executives' outlooks as businesses slowly return to normal, and to gauge their expectations of a post-pandemic world. And while they do face challenges old and new — such as data that continues to overwhelm, and mounting pressure to achieve a balance between in-office and remote work — the optimism of the 2,000 EMEA business leaders surveyed is unmistakable.
"The overriding theme is of a commitment to growth, of organizations unafraid to change and thrive, and to keep pushing ahead," Nicky Tozer, vice president of EMEA for Oracle NetSuite, wrote in the new report's forward section.
In fact, it appears business faltered very little throughout EMEA in the last year, with 78% of respondents reporting that their organizations either met or exceeded their growth targets during 2020, down surprisingly little from the 84% who said this about 2019.
Not surprisingly, given that most businesses experienced at least a temporary slowdown, 54% of respondents expect revenue growth during the current fiscal year. This revenue optimism was highest in Spain (66%) and the U.K. (65%) and lowest in France and Benelux (40%)
One somewhat surprising finding: only 23% of respondents cited COVID-19 as the greatest external threat to their organizations, barely more than other factors such as government regulations and tax reform (21%), disruptive new competitors (20%) and political uncertainty (19%). This is a strong indicator that businesses are confident that the lessons they learned and changes they made during the pandemic have adequately prepared them for the next major disruption.
Challenges Amid the Optimism
Two areas business leaders cited as challenges are the movement toward remote work, and the information overload plaguing workers.
The widespread adoption of remote work during the pandemic has presented a double-edged sword. While half of all employees want to work remotely a majority of the time, nearly one-third of them (32%) said they miss face-to-face collaboration, and nearly as many (31%) said that the shift toward remote work had a negative impact on their organizations.
Clearly, there's a tension between the benefits and drawbacks of remote work that employers and employees alike will have to wrestle with.. Still, there's little debate that the combination of cloud-based business applications and post-pandemic awareness makes it both feasible and sensible to work toward an effective compromise.
The data conundrum may be a more complicated problem to solve. Almost all surveyed organizations say they're either data-aware or data-driven (95%), and that they've given employees the tools (90%) and data (88%) they need to do their jobs. Yet, a substantial majority of workers (73%) continues to feel overwhelmed by data at least part of the time.
The answer would appear to lie at least partly in leveraging artificial intelligence and automation to parse through data, thus drawing conclusions from consolidated reports.
Leadership On Rise?
Fortunately, it also seems that employees have more faith in their executive leaders to solve such problems.
Specifically, only 21% of respondents in finance said they lacked confidence in their senior leadership, down from 30% in 2019. The numbers were similar for HR (down from 29% to 21%) and supply chain/procurement (down from 28% to 20%) respondents.
"It appears that leadership performance during the pandemic has improved confidence in their abilities," the report concluded.
Things couldn't have been much tougher than they were in 2020, and yet here we are, in mid-2021, talking about unbridled business optimism.