Last year was a time of significant change, with nearly every business leader forced to adapt their models in response to pandemic restrictions. Those that were able to quickly pivot to the demands and requirements of a new environment that featured remote workforces and socially distanced interactions as the norm fared better, while others still haven’t recovered.
This year is already proving to be another year ruled by uncertainty, with the outlook hazy. Will consumers return to their pre-2020 habits, remain in their now familiar pandemic routines once communities reopen, or will new ones emerge? While 2020 has taught us that forecasting can be an exercise in futility, I’ve identified a handful of areas that business leaders can leverage to grow their business during this time of so many unknown variables.
Here are my predictions for the key trends that will continue this year:
During the pandemic, businesses that were able to seamlessly transition to a dispersed workforce were able to avoid needless workflow interruptions. This included outfitting employees with laptops, tablets and mobile devices, so they could perform their job effectively from the office, home or anywhere in between. In the next year, mobile devices will continue to ensure that businesses stay connected, with the flexibility that workers require while they slowly shift back to the office.
With the move to a dispersed workforce and data-heavy activities like video calls, businesses also sought networks that could adapt to their rapidly changing needs. While many businesses were already converting to managed SD-WAN, these networks proved their immense value during the pandemic, with their high-capacity bandwidth, centralized management and multiple connection types, which delivered lower network costs and increased performance. As a result, research from the Dell’Oro Group indicates the SD-WAN market, by 2025, is expected to surpass $4 billion.
Along with mobile devices, businesses are increasingly relying on IoT sensors to provide them with near real-time insights about their operations, from visibility into their manufacturing facilities to retail shelves. This has been especially vital during the pandemic when companies cut down on the number of in-person workers, making the insight and intelligence provided by IoT devices especially valuable. Today, IoT sensors are helping to reduce lost assets, improve stock management and increase fleet efficiencies. Some IoT providers even offer connectivity that intelligently roams to automatically connect to the strongest signal, resulting in always-on communication with devices.
Collaboration And Communication Platforms
Platforms like Microsoft Teams and Slack provided a vital lifeline to businesses during the pandemic, enabling collaborating individuals to stay connected despite the lack of in-person options. With our increasing reliance on these platforms for video calls, team chats, document storage and even external Teams calling, it’s hard to see them going away anytime soon.
Without the ability to shop online, staying safe during the pandemic would have presented a much tougher challenge. Native e-commerce websites like Amazon revealed an increase in sales, but more impressive were how traditional brick-and-mortar retailers used ingenuity and new tools to translate their customer service and sales operations into thriving operations, which will continue this year. For example, one jewelry retailer was able to create a dedicated virtual selling team, training more than half of their 15,000 brick-and-mortar associates to use virtual selling tools and, in the process, booking hundreds of thousands of individual virtual appointments, videoconferences and curbside consultations, which generated higher conversion levels than previous years.
When we look back on 2020 and 2021, we’ll remember them as years of great uncertainty, when organizations were forced to adapt or go bust. However, like the diamonds formed under immense pressure, the businesses that will come out of 2021 will be stronger, more adaptable and armed with the tools that will help sustain and grow their operations in the future.
This article was originally featured in Forbes.