While there are many who can't wait to bid adieu to 2020, there's no doubt the coronavirus pandemic and the ways businesses had to adjust to ensure their survival changed the trajectory of what 2021 will look like and what businesses should do to get ready for the upcoming year.
As a futurist, I help companies understand the latest trends and technologies and offer guidance on how to prepare their businesses for them. Here are the top 10 trends that will drive every business in 2021. I believe every business around the world needs to be ready for these trends.
Work from Home. . .For Real!
When employees were under lockdown orders due to COVID, companies had to quickly adapt operations to a remote workforce. Now that there are some distance and lessons learned from that initial experiment, most businesses are now rethinking their entire business model. Are offices still needed? Some companies experienced an increase in productivity when their workforce went remote. However, working from home wasn't ideal for others. Therefore in 2021, businesses need to reimagine their own workspaces as well as provide the proper support for people working from home, such as outfit them with the right office equipment, mental health support, and more so everyone can work from home comfortably.
Data as an Asset
Over the last few years, data volumes have grown massively. The businesses that leveraged this data to better understand their customers and to improve their decision-making are clearly the ones that are outperforming everyone else. Cloud solutions allow us to access data from anywhere. Businesses need to protect and secure data just as they would any other asset. Another important thing for businesses to consider is how to boost data literacy in their company in 2021 in order to glean decision-making insights from it. This also requires an investment in systems that can efficiently and effectively process, analyze, and store the data streaming into the organization.
Business Model Innovation
In 2021, every business leader needs to reflect on what they're offering customers and how they operate as a business. There were lots of industries that were completely transformed in 2020, such as the hospitality and events industry. The businesses that are currently thriving even during a pandemic are those that reacted quickly to the changes. For example, restaurants that pivoted to enable expanded take-out abilities or Formula 1 companies that were producing ventilators altered their typical operations to ensure survival. Although businesses have always had to think about how the market is shifting and what transformations that means for business, it will be more important in 2021 to innovate your business model.
Another top business trend in 2021 will be automation. Businesses will evaluate their business processes to see where they can take people out of the process when they aren't adding any true value. There have already been quite a few shifts in this direction from warehouses, supply chains, autonomous vehicles, trucks, and ships, as well as chatbots that automatically take over customer service inquiries. In 2021, I expect that white-collar automation will be a trend as we consider what bits of a lawyer, doctor, or other white-collar professional's jobs can be given over to computers and smart robots and delivered through automated interfaces.
As a result of the economic turmoil COVID-19 left in its path, capital markets continue to be nervous. This creates a challenge for businesses that want to raise capital to expand or start a new business. One solution for raising capital has been crowdfunding, blockchain technology, and other decentralized finance options. This will be a big trend in 2021 that will allow businesses to acquire capital easier than through traditional channels.
As companies raced to find new ways of delivering service to customers that were not walking into stores, they began to consider how to deliver some of the services in digital forms using technology such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality. To comply with stay-at-home orders, people would use virtual avatars to "try" on make-up, eyewear, and clothes. Ultimately, this "try before you buy" with virtual interfaces will transform how businesses offer their services.
Going from Global to Local
In 2020 there were a lot of reasons to begin to think more locally rather than globally—COVID-10 disrupted international supply chains, there were increasing tensions between the U.S. and China, and Brexit was delivered. Companies began to rethink where they were sourcing and selling their goods because international turmoil could disrupt business. More localized manufacturing and selling are also appealing for environmental awareness.
Purposeful & Meaningful
There's a trend to have more purpose and meaning in our jobs. Younger generations that are entering the workforce want to connect with a purpose or work for a company that has real meaning. Companies that don't have a clear or meaningful purpose will struggle to attract talent and customers.
Sustainability has been a concern for some time, but during the pandemic, things shifted in emphasis. As disruptive as the coronavirus was to business, companies are recognizing the environmental crisis could be much more damaging to the world as well as the bottom line than the pandemic. Therefore, every company needs to rethink operations, environmental impact, and their products and how they are being used. This trend of sustainability links closely to the previous trend of a meaningful purpose as companies work to reduce their carbon and water footprint.
During the pandemic, brands relied on engaging with their customers and potential customers across social media. In 2021, there will be a big push toward a more authentic presence on social media and one that's less curated by social media experts, such as real behind-the-scenes looks at a company. Along with this will be engaging influencers and micro-influencers in your industry—those key people who are driving conversations and engage with your customers.
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