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7 business trends to look out for in 2021

Natalie Toniotti
AUTHOR
Natalie Toniotti
    10 minute read

COVID-19 has created a domino effect of change - impacting how many businesses and employees work forever. With no end in sight, businesses will need to continue to adapt to these changes and keeping up with new trends forecasted for 2021 is one way to start.

We’ve compiled a list of 7 key business trends set for the new year to help businesses gain a ‘one up’ on the pandemic and their competition in 2021.

  1. Security

    A key trend from 2020 that is definitely going to continue into 2021 is the reliance businesses had for connectivity and technology during the pandemic. Many businesses took advantage of cloud-based technology in 2020, and unfortunately, so did many cybercriminals. As a result of this, businesses will need to consider building more robust security protocols, policies and procedures to prevent malicious activity across their online networks.

    For more of a perspective, as of October 2020, active users online equalled around 4.66 billion - 59% of the world’s population. As a direct result of remote work, this increase brought with it ransomware, phishing and more cybercriminal attack opportunities than ever before on business who were not well prepared to deal with remote work security. 20% of US businesses experienced a security breach through remote work, and a further 24% had to pay additional expenses to deal with cybersecurity breaches.

    With online users looking to increase in 2021, further data breaches can be expected. As 5G makes its way into our businesses, cyber-attacks are likely to become more sophisticated too.

    In terms of protection against these attacks, businesses will need to consider security measures for their newly distributed networks and cloud-based remote workers to keep their data protected and secure. A suggestion as made by Analysis by Check Point is to enforce automating threat prevention at all points of a company's network to help prevent advanced attacks from spreading and breaching sensitive data.

    Legacy security architectures, like VPNs, are not effective long-term solutions moving forward. Instead, zero-trust security models, where users can access the necessary information instead of all, will be an accelerating trend in 2021 as advised by Security Magazine.

  2. Remote work and working from home

    As a result of COVID-19 and the introduction of remote work, businesses have, without a doubt, become more comfortable with the idea of their employees working from home. In many cases, as the year went along, businesses even saw an increase in productivity from those working remotely. Although some are eager to get back in the office, many have actually enjoyed working from home and are reluctant to return. With the pandemic still in effect, there are health concerns about commuting to work and maintaining social distancing. As steps have already been taken to enable a productive remote workforce, there wouldn’t be a need for significant investment to continue this practice into 2021.

    Working from home is expected to continue even after the pandemic is over, suggests a study by Swinburne University. Businesses are more open to the idea of remote work and believe their employees will perform more remote work post COVID-19; three out of four managers believe. With four out of 10 survey respondents not having worked from home before COVID-19, 90% of them believed they would continue to do some remote work in the future.

    According to Global Workforce Analytics, around 56% of employees in the US are employed in a role that can partially be compatible with sustained working from home environments. They estimated the trend for remote work in 2021 to be around 25-30% of the US workforce, with more than one day per week working from home.

  3. Technology

    Digital transformation was a recurring theme in 2020. Businesses needed to "get online fast" to maintain business operations amidst a pandemic, which is expected to continue.

    Anywhere operations

    An IT operating model allows businesses to be accessed and enabled anywhere by their clients, employees and managers operating in physically remote environments. In Gartner’s report, Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2021, it is crucial that businesses adopt this tech model to emerge successfully from COVID-19. What “anywhere operations” means for your business is prioritising digitalisation and remote delivery above all else; anything requiring physical space be digitally enhanced.

    Video conferencing

    Due to the demand of remote and virtual work mixed in with the desire to stay connected to friends and family, video conferencing became a vital communication tool in 2020 and is expected to stay that way in 2021.

    Face-to-face meetings have faded due to the pandemic and video conferencing systems, so businesses should focus on user experience when using these tools. Video platforms that reward users with streamlined processes and that are browser-based are likely to become more popular due to their simplicity. Further developments expected in AI and machine learning programs can cancel out background noises and improve video quality, adding to user experience.

    5G networks

    Reliable connectivity and more bandwidth for remote work, video conferencing and digital collaboration has secured 5G’s popularity amongst businesses. As our reliance on digital devices grows through remote work and education programs, so will the value of 5G in 2021; as Forbes predicts.

    Hyperautomation

    When businesses automate as many processes as possible using tools like AI, machine learning, and other decision process and task automation tools, this is referred to as hyperautomation. It’s the concept that anything that can be automated, be automated, and COVID-19 has done nothing else but accelerate this concept in businesses to allow more remote, digital-first operations.

    The best use of AI in the future sees humans and machines working collaboratively instead of the common, misplaced idea of machines replacing humans altogether. Examples such as AI-encoded robots that act as an extension of a human's arm to pick up heavy parts already exist in Germany's car manufacturing factories.

    The most common AI design includes Chatbots, which as programs develop, will go beyond answering customer queries and instead will offer advice and flag potential issues raised by consumer questions. Extra information consolidated by Chatbots will allow human representatives to provide premium assistance and improve overall customer experiences.

  4. HR and resourcing

    Remote working models equals new skills, processes and technology solutions. A businesses HR function has to introduce to enable team management and collaboration, deliver workplace training and drive culture in a dispersed workforce.

    Recruitment and onboarding procedures no longer consist of face-to-face interviews and interactions, but instead are replaced by video conferencing platforms such as Zoom. Zoom and video platforms were also a major factor in maintaining a feeling of togetherness across businesses and keeping employees “connected”.

    People and performance management is heavily reliant on HR software that can track and monitor remote work productivity levels. These new tools replace traditional manual employee engagement surveys, allowing for real-time feedback for management to understand how employees adapt to the rapid changes brought on by COVID-19.

    COVID-19 has made businesses rethink what it means to have a safe and healthy workplace. Trends that introduce new programs on benefits for employees in terms of mental health, childcare and flexible work arrangements are expected to replace the traditional focus on injury and illness prevention.

  5. Customer relationships

    The customers of today expect seamless, 24/7 service, despite the pandemic and its influences. Online platforms, including social media, became vital in maintaining customer relationships remotely throughout the pandemic. The two-way conversation was a significant trend in 2020, and 2021 expects this trend to continue. Businesses will need to build upon their existing communication strategies to foster a more one-on-one conversation between their clients and their employees, heavily relying on their social channels to meet this increasing demand.

    Personalisation and connecting with customers through online messaging channels to offer promotions and order updates are expected to rise in 2021, according to Commbox. Integration of home voice assistants, smart appliances, health tracking watches and home automation are amongst the personalisation devices set to grow.

    More than 50% of businesses plan to spend more on chatbots than traditional mobile applications, with 80% of businesses projected to have integrated some form of chatbot system by the end of 2020. Chatbots add to the 24/7 availability component consumers are expecting, and AI advancements will soon see chatbots delivering more positive, personalised customer experiences in the future.

    Clients are expecting a consistent voice and experience across all platforms. An omnichannel approach means customers expect to be treated in the same way no matter where they receive communication from the company; Facebook, email and so on. To overcome challenges such as customer frustration if they need to repeat their data or issues each time they contact a business, businesses need to consider introducing an omnichannel approach to their communication platforms in 2021.

    To rectify the sense of disconnectedness felt by the pandemic, Shopify predicts customers will seek a sense of community in their favourite brands in 2021. Small businesses that displayed empathy, like that of a community and shared-real life stories, performed better than others in Australia during the pandemic.

  6. Consumer behaviour

    As we head into 2021, consumers will continue to adjust to the new reality of living through a pandemic. Settling into this new normal, marketers will need to look out for consumer behaviour changes to succeed in the new year.

    Emotion will be a key influence in consumer priorities, decisions and behaviours in 2021. Those with financial or physical health issues will remain conservative, while those who have emerged unscathed will likely splurge to make up for a year of deprivation. Marketers need to take this into account when creating consumer risk profiles and establishing marketing content and tone, product strategy and forecasting, and consumer experience priorities to drive business.

    64% of consumers believe they are at risk of exposure in public places and 77% believe that socialising norms pre-pandemic are no longer comfortable according to the 2020 Gartner Consumer Behaviors and Attitudes Survey. Marketers will need to meet consumers where they are and support these newfound self-protective instincts.

    At the start of 2020, consumers were in control; now, they are distressed, disconnected and demanding more diversity according to analysis in Marketing Magazine. In 2021, marketing will need to be more about supporting their customers and regaining confidence through their products or services. 93% of Australians said they would trust a business, buy more or recommend it to their friends and family if the business demonstrated values such as empathy towards its community.

    Brands should try to create a more personalised, human experience online as their consumers grapple with disconnected feelings associated with lockdowns and social distancing requirements.

    62% of Australian consumers are now more likely to purchase from brands with more diverse advertisements and almost 21% have boycotted those that don’t feature diversity at all. The social justice movement that gathered momentum in 2020 has greatly impacted consumer values; equality has displaced loyalty as the No.1 value among US consumers.

    Online shopping is expected to rise in 2021 despite easing restrictions. One-third of Australians expect their online shopping habits to increase, and 32% expect to continue to shop online in the next 6 - 12 months. The surge in eCommerce in the US is expected to carry through to 2021 and beyond, leading to permanent increases across online shopping outlets. The increased online demand has also led to greater expectations. Over 53% of Australians now expect more from their online digital experiences compared to pre-COVID days.

  7. Sustainability

    The visible drop in pollution due to lockdown requirements has accelerated sustainability awareness during the pandemic. 67% of consumers plan to be more cautious regarding the scarcity of natural resources due to the crisis, and 65% will be more mindful about their overall consumption in 2021.

    In this sense, COVID-19 has given businesses an opportunity to pivot their stance on sustainability and incorporate this concept into their products and services. It is expected past the pandemic, that customers will start to look for brands that align more with their newfound sustainability values. Companies that meet this demand will benefit considerably in terms of spending power and loyalty. 79% of consumers are starting to change their purchase preferences to match their values on social responsibility, inclusiveness and environmental impact according to Capgemini’s study.

    Consumers are no longer satisfied with simple sustainability marketing. Instead, IPG Media Lab has noted that consumers want brand sustainability that is authentic and actionable. Consumers are expected to want proof that products are made sustainably, so transparency about sustainability targets and processes could help build this trust in 2021.

From key trends to maximising business efficiencies in 2021

These seven key trends in 2021 showcase the drastic effect the pandemic had on businesses around the world; from enforcing remote work, to digitalising technologies. Not only has COVID-19 influenced the business trends in 2021, but these recent changes in the way we work have shown potential as long-term measures to increasing business efficiency. We’ve compiled a free eBook that addresses maximising efficiencies without significant investment here.

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