What Businesses Will Look Like in 2021 - Predictions from 9 innovative leaders

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2020 has been a tumultuous year, with organisations across all sectors forced to switch business strategies in order to survive. Digital transformations spanning all industries have put the spotlight on technology solutions, as companies navigate through this year's challenges. 

As we move into 2021, it is fundamental businesses adopt new ways of working in order to successfully thrive in the next normal. In this article, we have collated the thoughts of 9 innovative leaders who have shared their predictions of what the year ahead will bring for businesses.  

Jed Rose, EMEA General Manager, Airwallex:

Next year will pose many challenges for businesses as the pandemic continues to impact businesses globally and the consequences of a new UK-EU trade deal — or lack thereof — need to be worked through. However, with challenge comes opportunity. Despite the further disruption looming, the UK will still remain a global leader, particularly within the financial industry. We must look towards the chances that arise in 2021 and use them to strengthen global banking connections, for example with the US and APAC. Regardless of the political and economic changes the UK will face, London will remain a crucial ecosystem for financial services.

In 2021, there will be a surge in international businesses looking to change their working practices, especially the management of their finances, so that they can continue to improve their efficiencies and operating margin. This means that many will take the leap to fully immerse themselves in digital-first solutions and e-commerce to help continue operations and sales overseas. International organisations will look to consolidate their financial operations by using one single platform that offers greater transparency over transactions, helps them easily expand their customer base, and avoids the traditionally high fees that come with foreign exchange and cross-border payments. Now more than ever, organisations need accessible, convenient service providers to help them to manage their business' performance with minimal disruption.

 

As 2020 draws to a close, one thing is clear: businesses will not be able to go back to the same ways of working as before. Instead, they should look to advanced technologies to help them construct smarter ways of managing their finances in order to continue scaling despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit and the pandemic.

 

Joshua Zerkel, Certified Professional Organizer and Head of Global Engagement Marketing, Asana:

When the UK was plunged head-first into remote work in March 2020, business leaders did what they needed to do. They gave employees the tools they would need to survive in a fully remote environment. However, we're now in danger of fuelling app overload. Our data shows employees at enterprises are using 10 apps for remote work, switching between them 25 times a day. This has consequences. Due to switching between apps, 27 percent of workers miss messages and actions, and 25 percent end up duplicating work. 

In 2021, business leaders should take a critical eye to the tech stack deployed to help teams cope with the rapid transition to remote work. A lot of those tools, like Asana, Zoom, and Slack will stay in place to support workers in distributed work. But ensuring employees know the purpose of each app they are using, and how they are using it is vital to keeping teams aligned and avoiding ‘work about work' (such as searching for information and duplicating work) in 2021.

 

Iggy Bassi, CEO and Founder, Cervest:

2020 has been a year unlike any before. Almost every industry across the globe has been thrown into disarray by the effects of COVID-19. With this, politicians, scientists, and business owners have been forced to focus their efforts on the pandemic, in turn pulling their efforts away from the battle against the climate crisis.

The new year will see a stronger spotlight on how organisations take responsibility for their climate security and the measures enforced to tackle risk. The pandemic has brought a new impetus to overall risk frameworks, especially climate. So much so, we expect 2021 to see the first company declaring a goal that all its major business or financial decisions will factor climate into them. Measures are already being put in place to pave the way for this, for example the UK chancellor's recent announcement to make climate-related financial disclosure fully mandatory by 2025.

The recent Biden win has confirmed that the US will re-enter the Paris Agreement, which is expected to have an extreme influence on accelerating the demand for climate intelligence. Regardless, each country's climate actions for 2021 and beyond will become more visible through their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). More businesses will look to seek outside consultation to remain compliant with new guidelines, and enterprises will start to make radical changes to business operations and investments as a result of gaining access to new intelligence on physical and financial climate risk.

 

We also anticipate seeing an uptick in sustainable investments, as investors continue to hold organisations accountable for their transparency, adherence, and action around climate risk. Equally, the move towards ‘Paris-aligned' investing will see a rise in acquisitions within the climate risk space as its importance becomes ever more clear. Unlike the shock factor COVID-19 caused, we already know climate risks are happening. It will be those businesses who actively show improved financial disclosure on their climate security who will be the ones to attract investment in 2021 and years to come.

 

Michele Romanow, President and Co-Founder, Clearbanc:

2020 has been devastating for so many businesses and the UK economy has been hit hard with the Brexit and COVID combination. These circumstances are forcing businesses to pivot to online and build things we never imagined because our needs have totally changed. The 2008 recession saw a huge wave of startups that went on to some of the biggest exits in the last couple years like Airbnb, Uber, and Whatsapp. I benefited from the early stage of this boom when my company was acquired by Groupon in 2014. I think we'll look back at 2020 and see that some of the most creative companies in healthcare, AI, and ecommerce were started while we were all stuck at home trying to solve problems.

 

Tanzil Bukhari, Managing Director, EMEA, DoubleVerify:

Content consumption levels have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our recent research study, ‘Four fundamental shifts in media and advertising during 2020', revealed that people have doubled the amount of time they spend each day consuming content — from 3 hours 17 minutes, to an average of 6 hours 59 minutes. Consumers are specifically spending more time on social media platforms, such as TikTok, reading online news, and watching digital/streaming video. And this behaviour isn't likely to slow down in 2021. This presents a significant opportunity for advertisers to engage consumers in the year ahead. But Google's phase-out of third party cookies means that brands need to explore innovative approaches to target the right audiences in a privacy-friendly manner. 

Contextual targeting solutions are paving a brand suitable — and more effective — way to reach consumers based on the content they're interested in and already consuming. Contextual targeting technology, based on semantics and machine learning, helps advertisers reach their audiences in a relevant and privacy compliant way without sacrificing the scale that cookie tracking offers. In a world transformed, this approach to advertising will encourage brands to challenge the status quo when it comes to audience targeting, to harness consumers' appetite for content, at the right time, all while driving campaign performance.

 

John Morrison, SVP of International Markets, Extreme Networks:

As a result of the ongoing pandemic and the related increase in remote work, organisations are going to focus even more on their networks in 2021. After all, they are an organisation's lifeblood, especially during uncertain times. But one of the main challenges for many companies next year will be that they need their network infrastructure to continue delivering optimal performance despite the inevitable budget cuts and resource constraints that the fallout of the global pandemic, and the resulting recession, will create.

Network-as-a-service will emerge as one of the key enterprise IT and network connectivity trends of 2021 as it provides organisations with a cost-conscious solution to ensuring consistent connectivity. It also offers companies the flexibility to expand or reduce network services on-demand depending on business needs, without sacrificing performance. 

 

2021 will be the year where many companies start to move away from investing in physical network infrastructure and instead consider outsourcing some or all network operations and management by committing to the network-as-a-service model.

 

Liron Smadja, Senior Director of Global Brand Marketing & International Expansion, Fiverr:

Whilst the pandemic has been incredibly hard on small businesses, one key learning has been the proof that many employees can work from anywhere, any time. Even as vaccines become available, it's unlikely we will go back to the office full time. The demand for full-time office work simply isn't there. Business leaders therefore need to ensure they are equipping their staff with the skills to manage and operate in a hybrid team. 

The workforce structure itself is also changing, and we'll see this coming to fruition in 2021. Many businesses don't want to take the risk of hiring full-time employees to meet spikes in work that may prove transient, so we believe the year ahead will bring with it a continued trend towards agility. Bringing freelance specialists into fully digitised workflows to help cope with this extra demand is something we've seen many businesses doing through 2020 — and expect the trend to continue to grow through 2021. 

 

More businesses will recognise the value of hiring freelancers as a solution to filling in the skills gap they may have in their immediate teams. Opting to hire freelancers rather than full-time employees will help small businesses to acquire an agile, on-demand workforce which can help with their wider business goals without affecting their cash flow.

 

James Herbert, CEO, Hastee:

In what has been a tumultuous year for businesses across every industry, COVID-19 has given the UK an opportunity to show the effectiveness of innovative, people-led solutions to our shared challenges.

With the separation from family, friends, and colleagues, a spotlight is being shone on our mental and physical wellbeing. Likewise, people are focussing on their finances in an environment of uncertainty. In fact, recent data from our ‘2020 Workplace Wellbeing Study' shows that up to two-thirds (66%) of UK workers have been affected by personal finance-related stress because of the pandemic already.

As a result, solutions to financial health issues will increasingly become a business-critical part of employee wellbeing and retention. The earnings-on-demand sector — which enables employees access to a portion of their wages ahead of payday — has seen a dramatic increase in use in 2020 and is set to grow further in 2021. Our research suggests that 59 per cent of UK workers believe these schemes would prevent them from resorting to high-cost credit options such as credit cards and payday loans which, given current uncertainty for millions of people's financial futures, could be a key way to unlock financial freedom for millions of British workers.

 

Read more on the research from the Workplace Wellbeing Study 2020 here.

 

Stuart Templeton, Head of UK, Slack:

Over the last few months, the word ‘work' has been completely redefined. We have seen the eradication of the traditional 9 to 5 and in some cases the complete upheaval of the physical office. During the shift to remote work, many new benefits have been realised, so it's no surprise that our recent Future Forum survey found that less than 12% of knowledge workers want to return to working full-time in the office.

With a move towards hybrid work expected in the years ahead, 2021 will be the year that businesses need to create their own digital HQs. This will help to keep culture alive and retain all discussions and documents if organisations are to ensure their teams — both internally and externally — remain connected and productive. 

2021 is ultimately a chance for businesses to reset and restructure the way that they work. By putting in place a new digital HQ they will be able to meet the needs of a distributed workforce, ready for the future.

 

It's evident that 2021 businesses will continue to navigate the ongoing pandemic and with it brings exciting growth opportunities for business across all sectors. These predictions offer insight on how business leaders can thrive in the coming year.