In short:

  • Respondents to our survey, particularly those in finance, expressed optimism about their businesses through mid-2022.
  • Demographic slices of the data show that respondent mindset — and strategies for handling an uneven recovery — differ significantly based on role, industry and business size.
  • When it comes to returning to the office, finance isn't messing around: A majority of finance team respondents expect to require vaccinations for workers and will ask for proof.

2021 is nearly over, and business leaders are looking to 2022. But to those who still feel like they’re reeling from 2020, we can say that you’re not alone.

However, you may find a little less understanding from finance executives. The topline finding from our Brainyard Summer/Fall 2021 Outlook Survey is that finance leaders are optimistic and ready to go — noticeably more so than their non-finance counterparts.

In late July, we fielded the latest of our quarterly surveys to gauge sentiment and priorities amongst leaders at companies with under $250 million in annual revenue. We teamed up with Wakefield Research to access an even larger pool of respondents with representation across more management levels, company sizes, verticals and responsibilities within organizations. Our goal was to understand how small and midmarket companies are now handling an uneven recovery.

Some key findings:

  • 56% of finance leaders expect to require vaccinations for workers returning to the office, and 65% will ask for proof.
  • 55% of finance and 44% of non-finance respondents expect no change in their approach to office real estate over the coming 12 months.
  • 45% of larger-company respondents see expanded marketing efforts as their No. 1 path to growth.

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When asked about the 12-month economic outlook for their industry, both finance and non-finance respondents proved largely upbeat overall. Finance especially continued its bullish streak from past surveys, being nearly 45% more likely to have a very positive view of its industry’s prospects over that timeframe.

It is worth noting that in August, after survey responses were in, consumer sentiment tumbled to its lowest level since 2011. This decrease, attributed to delta variant concerns, could dampen some executives’ outlooks as they wait to see its impact on economic recovery.

Economic Outlook
Overall, finance leaders have a more positive economic outlook on their industries than non-finance leaders, according to our survey data.

Other critical takeaways:

Leaders of companies in the $10 million to $50 million revenue bracket show a strong propensity for exploring new tactics for company growth.

In terms of strategies for growth in the year ahead, differences arose when we analyzed data by annual revenue. For instance, leaders at companies in the $10 million to $50 million bracket were the most likely to cite measures like adding new products, selling into new channels and creating ecommerce capabilities as ways to drive revenue — and they were the least likely to aim for growth by selling more to existing customers.

Nearly triple the number of finance team members prioritize customer support vs. their non-finance colleagues.

Continuing the trend we’ve seen since last fall, finance is more aggressive in its projected spending increases over the next year. This team also prioritizes spending on customer support more than non-finance teams do. However, regardless of company revenue or their role, respondents did agree on the need to prioritize spending in IT and technology.

Only 28% of finance and 37% of non-finance respondents say they will decrease, explore alternatives to or entirely eliminate their office real estate.

When it comes to returning to the office, two findings of note arose. Firstly, we likely won’t see the mass exodus from office space predicted at the height of the pandemic: The large majority of both finance and non-finance respondents say they will keep office space the same or even increase space in the next 12 months. However, the future of work does look more flexible, with only 11% of respondents saying they will require all workers in the office.

Finance and the broader C-Suite are far more likely to say that their companies will require vaccination — and proof of vaccination — than non-finance respondents.

One of the biggest disparities between finance and non-finance responses came from vaccination questions. It seems that finance executives are ready to get back into the office, with as little risk as possible.

The bottom line:

Despite the challenges of the current landscape, most of our survey respondents report optimism. Even when presented with factors like supply chain disruption and stiff competition, company leaders seem confident in their ability to embrace an uneven recovery.