2020 has been quite the year, to say the least.
We’ve all experienced uncertainty and frustration as daily life has gone largely digital (at least temporarily). But it’s also been a year of resiliency and change, especially in our professional lives. As the new year approaches, these seven predictions consider we could be headed as our new normal continues to evolve.
- The office will be back… but in a whole new way
- Streaming will still reign supreme
- The virtual classroom will get a makeover
- Connectivity will take priority
- Business continuity will be top of mind
- The pressure to truly prove value will be on
- Communication will matter more than ever
Prediction 1: The office will be back… but in a whole new way
Cookie-cutter cubicles. Identical rows of desks in an open-plan layout. Even the daily grind of a five-day commute. For a lot of us, we left behind these icons of office life in March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced an abrupt switch to working remotely. They’ll still be there when offices start to reopen in 2021, right?
A considerable number of office workers – as many as 75 percent, according to one recent survey – are looking forward to going back. But instead of the office existing as the place in which we work, it’ll become a space that enhances how we work. We’ll be more intentional about where and when we meet in person, with work that features team-building and collaboration having priority. And expect to hear more of descriptions like “phygital” (as coined in this report anticipating tomorrow’s workplaces) and concepts like flex work.
Meanwhile, another way to define the office altogether will continue to gain traction. For some people with the option to work remotely for the long term, they’ll find that they can work from anywhere. Regional cities will continue to draw remote workers, particularly those looking to strike a better work-life balance. And the most adventurous will give an international flair to the home office.
Prediction 2: Streaming will still reign supreme
March 11, 2020, was a watershed moment in the public imagination during the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA suspended play, the NCAA announced that its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments would take place without fans (they would soon be canceled altogether), and news broke of several high-profile coronavirus diagnoses. By the end of the week, nearly every US state had declared a state of emergency, and most issued stay-at-home orders by month’s end.
With live sports and entertainment on pause, streaming now filled the pop-culture void. Bandwidth consumption, hours spent watching online content, and content subscriptions all increased significantly during the first half of 2020. Toward the end of the year, these trends generally had held.
At some point in 2021, it’s anticipated that we’ll start to again fill stadiums and head to theaters. Until then, the living room will be the best seat in the house. Major entertainment studios like Warner Bros. and Disney already have announced that many of their upcoming releases will instead debut on HBO Max and Disney+. Plus, several marquee sporting events will make their return, most notably the Summer Olympics.
Of course, nothing beats the experience of cheering on your favorite team in person. Or singing along with the crowd to your favorite band. Or experiencing the thrill of a summer blockbuster in the dark alongside hundreds of fellow moviegoers. Until then, at least we’ve got our screens.
Prediction 3: The virtual classroom will get a makeover
Many office workers found it jarring when they had to transition abruptly to working remotely in early 2020. The same – at the very least – was true for the millions of US students who switched virtually overnight from in-person to online learning.
As this switch played out over the course of the year, several storylines emerged. As the pandemic set in, schools across the country quickly pivoted to remote instruction. But the very technology that made it possible to continue instruction could also act as a barrier, for both students and teachers. Meanwhile, the digital divide between communities and households with access to high-speed broadband again came into sharp focus.
Online learning, however, will continue to play an important role into 2021, and beyond. At least one new startup has already emerged with the intention to improve the user experience for students. (Think less a virtual lecture hall and more a seminar.) It’s not farfetched to think that this will spur the established collaboration platforms (including Microsoft Teams) to introduce new features tailored to educational customers. And keep an eye out for post-secondary education potentially becoming the strongest driver for technical and design innovations.
Prediction 4: Connectivity will take priority
In July 2020, the Pew Research Center found that more than 20 percent of US adults had already moved to different part of the country – or knew someone who had – as a result of the pandemic. The reasons and circumstances reported were varied, but a general trend seemed to correspond with the overall demographics of people able to work remotely. Overall, those who said that they knew someone who had moved reported more education attained and higher incomes earned.
Smaller cities and rural communities have proven particularly popular with relocating remote workers. And this has caught the attention of hiring managers seeking to expand their talent pools. In theory, it’s easier to match the right person to the right position with the whole country – if not the world altogether – now in play.
If this trend holds, it eventually would reshape and revitalize these areas of the country. High-speed broadband infrastructure and access, however, will be a decisive factor in retaining new residents. Especially those who have the option to work or establish a new business where they choose.
In 2021, broadband connectivity is expected to garner renewed federal focus. The incoming Biden-Harris administration has identified universal broadband as a priority for economic recovery. This would include expanding existing infrastructure and access initiatives, as well as support for municipally owned networks.
Turning policy into reality is always complex. But as the pandemic starts to subside, lawmakers will be more likely to see connectivity as fundamental to the overall economic recovery.
Prediction 5: Business continuity will be top of mind
Sure, closing the door on 2020 can’t happen fast enough. The year did reveal, however, an important takeaway: A solid business continuity plan is no longer simply a hypothetical exercise.
Business continuity planning started to take shape as a distinct practice in the 1970s, as more businesses began to use computers to store, automate and manage information and operations. And this certainly was the focus emphasis in the spring when many companies made the overnight switch to remote work. CIOs and other leaders tasked with executing on business continuity plans suddenly had to ensure that employees had technologies that both allowed them to work successfully from home and aligned with overall security and established processes.
The pandemic, though, had chaos-causing company in 2020 from climate-related disasters. West Coast wildfires, Atlantic hurricanes and a powerful Midwest derecho all compounded disruptions. The 2021 wildfire and hurricane seasons both could be unusually active, although not as intense as 2020.
These sudden pivots – whether long-term because of a once-in-a-century global pandemic or short-term due to a local weather event – affect businesses beyond their infrastructure. Employee engagement will also feature prominently in business continuity planning going forward. After all, the best infrastructure and technologies are only as strong as the people whom it supports.
Prediction 6: The pressure to truly prove value will be on
It may seem counterintuitive, but 2020 actually put a damper on technology spending. Worldwide, purchases of solutions and services fell more than 5 percent compared to 2019. A rebound of 4 percent is expected in 2021, but businesses will want their dollars to work smarter and go farther.
This scrutiny will have two reasons behind it. First, while 2021 is anticipated to end with strong growth, experts nonetheless expect turbulence along the way. Second, any technology spending that companies do choose to make will tie to broader goals for long-term transformation.
Communication solutions certainly will get a close look, especially legacy systems whose time has come to upgrade. Seamless and secure remote–work capabilities no longer are a nice-to-have perk, but a necessity. And with the ever-increasing amount of data businesses of all stripes encounter, they won’t accept outdated technology holding them back.
The same rigor will hold, too, for solutions that were quickly adopted in the pandemic’s early days. For some companies, what had made a good-enough fit in March 2020 no longer will match their needs and goals for 2021. Instead, the overall long-term value – from the end-user experience to security and business continuity considerations – will drive whether to stick it out or make the switch.
Prediction 7: Communication will matter more than ever
When Momentum made the sudden switch to working remotely in March 2020, it threw a curveball into the daily routines and processes of every team across the company. Some of us already were seasoned pros at working from home and collaborating with team members across the globe. But others had to come up with new strategies with face-to-face interactions on hold. Customer meetings were now virtual. Our support teams were now dispersed. In some respect, we had to discover entirely new ways to connect and communicate with each other.
Many of us will return to the office in 2021, armed with our experiences from this unusual year. But we won’t be stepping back in time to exactly how we left those spaces in early 2020. Instead, a typical work week will feature being on-site and remote, and we’ll need to successfully navigate both environments. Clear, effective and frequent communication – including feedback and the technology used to facilitate it – will be essential for building engaged and resilient teams necessary for success.
What are your predictions for 2021? Follow Momentum Telecom on LinkedIn and tag us to share your thoughts.