There’s no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has had a long-lasting impact on the way we do business. Now the question is: What will 2021 look like and how will the pandemic continue to impact the workplace, business models and customer demands? Certainly, there are several trends that could impact your business, but here are the top four I’ll be watching in 2021.
1. Evolving workspaces
For some business models and cultures, remote work does not impact employee productivity or capability, and it can even help reduce fixed costs. Additionally, many employees see flexible work policies as a perk, compelling business owners to reassess their policies and traditional workspaces.
Given the success some businesses had with remote work in 2020 and the high demand for it, many businesses in 2021 are likely to move away from blanket company policies and instead focus on specific role functions and policies for each. To go along with evolving workspaces and extended remote work policies, many businesses are also likely to invest more in advanced communication tools. The importance of keeping their team members connected and able to work efficiently has never been more relevant.
2. Continued low interest rate environment
Another 2020 trend that will likely continue into 2021 is a low interest rate environment. Many businesses that have been waiting out the pandemic to embark on acquisition or expansion opportunities may take the plunge given that acquiring financing will cost significantly less than it has in past years. The low interest rate environment is especially likely to contribute to another strong year for the construction and development industry.
3. Workplace changes for women
An equally important trend many businesses will need to face is women in the workplace being strained between work demands and new COVID-19-related family responsibilities. Research shows responsibilities that have resulted from the pandemic, such as home learning, daycare closures, and the need to care for elderly family members, are disproportionately falling to women and resulting in many having to leave the workforce to tend to family needs. In fact, a study by the National Women’s Law Center found that four times more women than men left the labor force in September 2020.
As many businesses know, diversity and inclusion drives team success and profitability, meaning it’s crucial for business owners to find a way to retain and create opportunities – especially leadership opportunities – for women in the workplace. Here is a list of a few policies business owners can implement to help make that possible:
- Staggered start and end times to allow for dropping off and picking up children.
- Flexible work arrangements in eligible positions, such as compressed schedules and remote work, to support home learning.
- A childcare subsidy to support workers who must work onsite but have had their childcare service close due to the pandemic.
- Provide information and resources for mental well-being.
To go a step further to support the women in your organization, consider creating a women’s affinity group to connect all team members and support their new initiatives. Another option to consider is a partnership with a local or national organization that supports women in business. A great example of an organization local to Iowans is Women Lead Change (WLC), which provides leadership resources, networking opportunities, events and more to advance women’s leadership and impact the future workforce.
4. Demand for an online presence
According to a Salesforce State of the Connected Customer report, 58% of customers say the events of 2020 has raised their expectations for business’s digital capabilities. This means, if your business is not yet online, either in the form of a website, a Google My Business account, a social media profile, or a seller on an e-commerce platform, 2021 should be the year you make the leap.
Here are a few ways I see businesses boosting their online presence:
- Investing in more sophisticated and secure online transaction platforms to meet the continued high demand for online shopping.
- Leveraging social media to boost traffic to improved e-commerce platforms.
- Joining conversations about their organization happening online, either on social media or in a review platform like Yelp or Google.
The final prediction, joining online conversations, will be especially important in 2021, as with a potential increase of online activity comes an increase in online conversations – including negative feedback – about your company. According to one study, 85% of consumers do research online before making purchases, and one of the main pieces of information they look for is customer reviews. More than ever before, businesses will need to join those conversations, respond to negative feedback and continue to connect with their both in person and remotely.