Pacific Northwest business leaders and employees remain cautiously optimistic for the future amid uncertainty, restrictions on gatherings, and business closures stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to findings of the Business in the Northwest 2021 report published by the Washington State University Carson College of Business.

Helping fuel optimism are new COVID-19 vaccines and a new administration, according to a news release today on the fourth annual Business in the Northwest report from WSU.

“In 2020, businesses across the world were presented with unforeseen challenges, from keeping their customers and employees safe to reconfiguring operations amid ever-changing regulations,” Carson College Dean Chip Hunter said in the release. “In the Pacific Northwest, finding new ways to adapt has been key in maintaining optimism for the future.”

The report — based on a survey of about 1,050 business leaders, employees, and Generation Z employees ages 18 to 23 in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho conducted between Dec. 1, 2020, and Jan. 8, 2021 — measures how the groups feel about the state of business in the region, and how they’ve been impacted by changes like working from home. The report was commissioned by WSU’s business school and conducted by Edelman Data & Intelligence, a consumer research firm.

The survey included responses from about 300 Northwest business leaders, 500 employees, and 150 Gen-Z employees, with additional respondents from Eastern Washington.

The report can be accessed here and includes filters to look at individual state results.

Some of the findings, according to the release and from the report:

Three in four business leaders and employees say the pandemic has negatively impacted their company (up 10 percentage points among business leaders since June 2020). Prior to COVID-19, more than half of business leaders and employees felt the Pacific Northwest business climate was strengthening in recent years. However, amid the pandemic, that figure drops to 35 percent of business leaders and 17 percent of employees, with those numbers also reflected in Washington.

Courtesy of Washington State University

Most business leaders (91 percent) and employees (83 percent) feel their company is prepared to withstand changes in the next three years. In Washington, those numbers are 94.5 percent and 83 percent, respectively.

When asked if they were hopeful their company would expand in the next year, 87 percent of business leaders and 69 percent of employees in Washington somewhat or strongly agreed.

More than half of business leaders (73 percent) feel positively about their local and state governments’ response (up 17 points since June 2020) compared to 55 percent who feel positively about the response from the federal government (up 1 point since June 2020). In Washington, 81 percent of business leaders have a positive view of the state government’s response to COVID-19 compared to those in Oregon (63 percent) and Idaho (60 percent).

Pacific Northwest businesses have adjusted to operate more effectively in the unique pandemic climate. Business leaders point to changes like increasing online retail efforts (89 percent), implementing mail delivery (87 percent), and introducing new products or services (87 percent) as the most impactful for their business.

Navigating remote work with little experience to fall back on has proved challenging for Gen-Z employees. Compared to other employees, Gen-Z employees throughout the Pacific Northwest are more likely to be affected by at-home distractions (54 percent versus 40 percent), decreased ability to focus (44 percent versus 31 percent), and a disrupted work/life balance (36 percent versus 23 percent).