2020 was a year marked by change as many of us adjusted to disruptions in both our work and personal lives. While the enormous impact of the pandemic was unexpected, it has acted as a catalyst for transformation across the workplace. By forcing businesses to become more agile and adaptable, the past year has accelerated change that might have otherwise taken 10 years or more.
We saw a dramatic shift as entire global workforces became remote almost overnight. At the same time, businesses that might have normally been more reluctant to explore emerging technology trends like 5G finally decided to embrace their new environment and rethink traditional ways of connecting.
What can we expect in this next stage of normal? In 2021, I expect some traditional technologies will finally be cast aside in favor of those that more closely meet the needs of our increasingly distributed, changing workforce.
Here are my top five predictions for 2021:
1. The remote workforce will have ushered in permanent changes in the workplace.
While the desire to return to our previous lives is a popular holiday wish, the reality is that the workplace may never go back to its former self. I expect that remote work will remain an indelible part of where and how we work — and for the first time, we will create a truly mobile enterprise. While many businesses have developed short-term solutions to support their workforce network needs, in 2021, business leaders will likely remain desperately in search of technologies and platforms that will enable employees to maintain their productivity levels — wherever their “office” is. For example, collaborative platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom saw tremendous growth during the pandemic. Microsoft Teams has even opened its meeting platform to third-party apps, allowing users access to more tools during meetings to help them work seamlessly and efficiently.
2. 5G will enable new business capabilities.
We’ve been told, “5G is finally here!” But the reality is we’re still years away from fully realizing its potential. However, it’s not too soon to start planning for all the benefits that 5G could enable — including rethinking your networks and exploring ways to optimize your systems for faster speeds and enhanced security. As capabilities slowly advance, partnering with a trusted adviser could be the first key step to developing your expertise and passing along the key lessons you learn to clients.
3. Network constellations could replace legacy phone lines.
Despite the attractiveness of fiber, cellular and VoIP networks, legacy copper wire networks are still used every day in major industries for faxes, alarms, point-of-sale devices and elevator lines. While VoIP may be replacing some of these traditional copper phone lines, VoIP lines require power and an internet connection and therefore are not 100% dependable. Innovative transformation technologies could emerge to replace the traditional copper lines with more reliable and available network options. That coupled with the expanding low-latency satellite network Starlink could provide enormous versatility and availability to replace these traditional phone line applications in 2021 — and make global broadband internet access an eventual certainty.
4. Mobile devices evolve to the ‘pocket enterprise.’
Increasingly, mobile devices are becoming the way we connect our work and personal lives — new apps are enabling us to stay connected 24/7, and video calling is becoming the new norm. In the new year, I expect that business leaders will be increasingly looking to invest in these new capabilities, including 5G connectivity, collaboration platforms and messaging services, so their teams can connect from anywhere, at any time, without missing a beat. If we see the expected increasing availability of 5G in 2021, we could also see previously nascent technologies like telemedicine, improved videoconferencing and augmented and virtual reality further enhance the way we collaborate.
5. Businesses will aim for a balance of efficiency and growth.
Many say we’ll continue to feel the economic effects of 2020 for some time. In the first half of the year, minimizing spend will likely continue to be a large consideration. Business leaders will therefore be looking toward complete technology solutions that provide greater efficiency, business resiliency and minimal IT interaction resources to work “out of the box.” Most of all, I believe they’ll prioritize solutions that allow them to continue to deliver high customer satisfaction.
We could continue to feel the effects of this aberration of a year for many years. And while tragedy has been a large part of the experience, opportunities exist for those who are bold enough to embrace the wave of change and move their businesses to the next level.
This article was originally featured in Forbes.