Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, the world has been dealing with a lot of uncertainty. Understanding where ones' business is headed - is the no. 1 question CEOs need to ask and be able to answer. Based on the feedback they shared so far in various studies and interviews, here are some of the most important trends I see companies should focus on in the months to come:
#1 Accelerated Technological Transformation
Even though, as humans, we largely struggle with managing technology in our personal lives (phone addictions, Twitter rage, you name it), further investments in tech is a no brainer. Whatever can be automated, should be automated (hyper-automation) - helping to speed up processes, deliver better customer experiences, and free up people from performing mundane tasks.
In his updated forecast, technologist Daniel Newman gives a good summary of the key 2020/2021 trends that have been further accelerated by the pandemic. From 5G (no, it still doesn’t transmit the virus) and WIFI6, through (also conversational) AI and Machine Learning algorithms powering data collection and analytics, to further process automation and the rise of XaaS (everything as a service).
In the tech/XaaS space the most important focus points are predicted to revolve around:
Further process and product automation (for efficiency and improved UX) and automation optimization (greater connectivity between different systems)
Collaboration & communications software (e.g. creating more immersive experiences to maximize inclusion and an alternative to fatigued Zoom interactions)
Data Security Protocols (including cyberattack risk management, stricter access policies, tighter authentication processes, etc.)
More robust IT infrastructure (including better hardware and distributed cloud solutions)
#2 Hybrid Workplace
Big tech companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter have already announced new work from home policies to stay in place through July 2021. Some financial services firms, like JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank, have done the same in the US. The discussion on what the future of work is going to look like is still ongoing, but there seems to be a consensus on the need of introducing some kind of hybrid solutions with regards to remote work.
How interesting, that now going to the office from time to time is replacing the work from home perk. Historically though, most leaders were quite defensive about remote work. Worrying about the output, having little faith in people’s ability to get their jobs done outside the office, they would believe that employees can only be productive sitting in front of the office screen for 8+ hours. That notion was very quickly disproved by the data on productivity in the first few months of lockdowns. Either due to the natural drive to perform or for lack of better options to fill the time (there’s a limit to how much laundry one can do and how many episodes of Community one would binge on), we managed to keep the ball rolling. According to the joint HBS and NYU researchers’ study conducted in July 2020 by Polzer, et. al. on over 3M users across North America, Europe, and the Middle East - we actually started spending more time in front of our computers (48 mins on average) and sit in more meetings (however individual meetings seem to have become shorter). Similar sentiment - on productivity staying pretty much in check - was also expressed in a smaller sample survey done by BCG at the end of Q2 in the US, Germany, and India. This is fantastic news - putting leadership at ease and opening the doors to modern work frameworks combining the best of two worlds: efficiency and flexibility.
#3 Mental Health Initiatives
One of the newest trends that have emerged in the wake of the covid pandemic would be related to mental health. Novel ways of operating, longer hours, stress, anxiety, burnout - all of it is affecting employees around the world and impacting employee performance. Better tools to cope with stress, anxiety, and most of all - change, are likely one of the most valuable (and appreciated) gifts the employer can share with its employees. Call it resilience training, change agility training, neuroscience and behavioral psychology workshops or 1-on-1 counseling sessions, lockdowns have uncovered the need for companies to take on a more active role in providing mental health support to their employees and it’s great to see that many are embracing it. Some great examples of tools are Ginger, Berlin-based - Hello Better, or Evermood.
#4 New Employee Journey
Covid has not only impacted the business as it was but is also forcing the leadership to rethink the whole employee experience from start to finish. Especially, the initial phase of a new member joining the company - through recruitment processes, onboarding, interacting with the new team and colleagues, sinking into the culture - has been completely altered and - to a large extent - stripped from the social aspect of joining a new community.
It also gives birth to new experience design frameworks with the use of VR and AR tools, like Arthur, or Spatial, allowing employees to share knowledge, manage projects remotely and effectively train newcomers.
At the same time, removing the constraints of physical locations, it enables attracting global talent and provides new opportunities to both employers and employees.
#5 Re/Upskilling Programs
Accelerated investment in automation, AI, and machine learning means more efficiency, but also poses a risk of low skilled workers becoming obsolete or at least some part of jobs being replaced by smarter technology. The changing landscape of operations, be that due to a pandemic or simply shifts in demand or new competition, will always require companies and its people to flex to the new normal.
The re/upskilling opportunities for companies to utilize their existing talent and help them pivot into new, more advanced (or simply, different) roles seem like evident ones to explore next. Topped with the often mentioned challenge of filling talent gaps and fast operational redesigns due to covid-19, executives can now help address both of those issues by investing more in their learning and development schemes, giving the existing employees a vital chance to gain new abilities and serve the company more effectively.