December 2020. The world has been under siege of the pandemic for more than a year. The virus seems to be accelerating its spread in a new wave. The countries hardest hit are the ones that turn to lockdown. The global economy has contracted by about 4% this year. The return to growth of the global economy in 2021 depends on macroeconomic measures, such as fiscal and monetary incentives, mass vaccination, but also on sectoral and company-level measures.
At the company level, the main trends will be the following:
1. A new perspective on remote work
Organizations are rethinking the concept of the workplace as a result of the pandemic, especially as managers have noticed that they can maintain a high level of productivity and employee satisfaction, and their attitude towards remote work has changed. In the future, it is increasingly likely that support functions will work mainly from home, but use the office as a collaborative space. In theory, this should allow employees to achieve a better work-life balance, provided there is a equal share of work and personal time. This trend is likely to continue throughout 2021 or until the health crisis is resolved. But even after a vaccine, even with the virus under the control, many organizations will realize that much of their office space has become useless.
2. New products and services for the “new normal”
Many organizations use this period to rethink their business in 2021. The transformation or recalibration must include the development of new products or services. The analysis of 2020 can trigger the review of processes to make the organization more effective and efficient. Finding new business opportunities, generated by new buying behaviors of B2B and B2C customers forces companies to develop new products/services, identify new markets or niches, or design new business models. The emergence of business models with an explosive growth dictated by the context is expected. Innovations open up opportunities and create new markets, and most of the time this means serving people for whom there is either no offer of products or services of a certain type of access was limited due to price.
3. More innovation for a competitive advantage
The world’s 100 most innovative companies spend even more on research and development during a recession, while many other companies freeze their investment budgets. In the long run, these investments give profitability and growth. Studies by Gartner or Bain & Company show that those companies that made such investments during the 2008 crisis had winning strategies over those that cut costs. To overcome the bottleneck created by the contraction in demand for many companies, it will be important to encourage employee creativity and accept certain risks when it comes to improving systems or product lines. The more companies are forced to make major changes in their operations because of COVID-19, the more those that fall behind could sink into an outdated and deeper routine in 2021.
4. Online presence as a necessity
All these trends come together with the improvement of the online presence and the digital profile of the companies. Companies need to make sure they have digital channels to coordinate remote teams, hold online meetings with customers, and purchase new technology. Websites will need to be more interactive, but still easy to use. Communication channels will need to be clear, robust, and reliable. Automated online chatbots should be as effective as a live visit or call. People are shopping online now more than ever. Companies whose products or services are difficult to understand and buy will lose market share to the benefit of competition. Even companies that have relied on old sales techniques will have to accept a digital presence if they are to survive in 2021.
The world is going through a process of in-depth transformation. All the landmarks of stability and many of the established business models have been put to the test. The promise of digital transformation comes with sustained efforts, not only financial but especially learning new skills and rethinking business processes in the new context. If it is questionable to what extent 2021 will be a year of return to growth. However, we know for sure that it will be a year of discovery, intense learning, and innovation. This is the gift that the year 2020 makes managers, entrepreneurs, and business people.