My top 10 predictions for 2021.
Twenty-twenty was a year we will not soon forget. A deadly pandemic swept the world, challenging much of what we all perceive as normal. When looked at in the context of 2021 and the future, 2020 irreversibly opened the proverbial barn doors or genie’s bottle to a very different path that will never again be contained within our past ideas of “normal.”
When all knowledge workers were forced to stay home and work remotely, we discovered that—for the most part— we could do so. We broke through persistent stigmas like “the lazy remote worker,” and we learned about some actual difficulties and challenges with the remote model that we’d never previously experienced.
My top 10 predictions for 2021 are all centered on the concept that we will continue to live through a chain reaction of new life experiences. Think of it much like an intricate design of dominos; they will most assuredly fall down now that 2020 has toppled the first one into the next.
1. Remote Work
The truth is now incontrovertible: Knowledge workers do not have to commute to an office to do individual work. High-quality internet connections and excellent collaboration tools enable remote workers to be more productive doing individual work than if they had traveled to their old office space. I realize this might be obvious to many, but some are still waiting for the return of a “normal” that will never come back. This first domino sets off all the following ones.
2. Offices Will Change
As people no longer have to commute to an office to do individual work, the very nature of the office as a space for such work will permanently change. Offices will thrive using smaller footprints that are primarily suited to group work (e.g., meetings, brainstorming, celebrating). Every meeting room will have to be equipped with modern, artificial intelligence (AI)-driven collaboration technology because each one will be used routinely to connect to the much larger percentage of remote workers. Going forward, the accepted office-design ratio of 30-percent meeting rooms to 70-percent workstations and offices will completely flip.
• Corollary changes as a result: There will be diminished use of public and private transportation to offices, resulting in reduced carbon emissions. There will be fewer “lunch restaurants” and other employee-centered services and retailers in big cities. More readily available office space will come at a lower cost
3. Hybrid Working Will Be the Norm
Knowledge workers will work from whatever location they deem most appropriate for the task. Individual work can be done at a home workstation; group work can be done from a redesigned office; and productivity tasks will continue from mobile devices during necessary travel to meetings or for client visits. There will no longer be an expectation that work must take place the same way every day.
• Corollary changes as a result: Knowledge workers will continue to adopt the idea that the right tool is necessary for every job, but there is no one-size-fits-all tool that works in all situations. More people will begin to use different headsets in different situations, as needed. More people will use different endpoints and different platforms,
as needed. For the enterprise, this will increase the value of endpoints and devices that can natively connect to different services.
4. Residences Will Change
The need for a dedicated space from which to work when at home has been made very clear. Going forward, apartments and houses will now be equipped and advertised as having one or more workstations for just that purpose. (Think about real-estate listings that will advertise “two bedrooms, two bathrooms and two home offices.”) A slapdash tablet/PC/earbud combination will no longer be seen as appropriate to work from a home office; instead, these workspaces will be properly equipped to enable productive work for the long haul. That will include bigger, ergonomically placed cameras and displays; high-quality headsets and/or speakerphones; appropriate lighting; appropriate bandwidth (so all the residents in a home can be “on” at the same time); and other such assets. As people modify their existing residence to support remote workstations, those modifications will be passed on to the next occupant, representing a value add to the space.
• Corollary changes as a result: Acknowledging the significant and permanent increase in the work-from-home population, manufacturers will begin to create products specifically for that population. Business-continuity planning will evolve from asking, “Can you make it work when remote?” to asking, “Does it work during the full load of your home’s users?” Technology managers and their individual remote workers will begin to think in terms of testing not merely for the success of one user at a time but also for when everyone is using the technology simultaneously. (Will the pipes burst if everyone flushes the toilet simultaneously?)
5. Where People Choose to Live Will Change
Once “time and distance of commute” is a less-important factor for many knowledge workers, living near an office (as many probably do right now) will no longer be the primary concern. People will likely choose where to live based on other criteria, such as school quality, family proximity, quietness or excitement, etc.
• Corollary changes as a result: As knowledge workers become more dispersed, services and businesses optimized to serve many people in urban centers will wane; conversely, services and businesses meant to serve fewer people in more dispersed locations will thrive. Movies, restaurants, supermarkets and more—no sector will be
immune to the trend.
6. Managing Knowledge Workers Will Change
As more knowledge workers work remotely, managing them will change, shifting from tracking their hours at their desk to tracking their output and results. These managerial skills have always existed—especially for global teams and 24/7 shift staff—but they will now be necessary across the board as organizations embrace the new hybrid-work model.
7. Our Work and Personal Life Will Blend
As more knowledge workers work remotely, and as managing them becomes about measuring output and performance rather than butt-in-seat hours, the concept of work/life balance will transform to work/life blend. Typical workdays for knowledge workers might start and end at different times, might include a blend of personal and professional tasks, and might include leisure activities. As long as employees complete all necessary tasks, and as long as they’re reachable and productive on mobile devices, their location and their activity at any given moment will become much less relevant.
8. Digital Transformation Will Continue to Accelerate (Cloud Is Clear)
We’ve been talking about digital transformation and the cloud for many years, but our 2020 experiences have shown that, for successful organizations, these trends have accelerated astronomically. Six years of digital transformation took place in about six months! Those who could not rapidly scale communications to the cloud struggled mightily. In 2021, nearly all successful organizations’ communications will be in the cloud.
9. Change Control Has Forever Changed
When all knowledge workers were told they had to stay home and use remote-collaboration tools, there was a huge influx of people using unified-communications (UC) tools for the first time. For the most part, this was simply absorbed without incident. Enterprise technology managers reported no more user issues than they had experienced with any other past technology rollout. The prior best-practice idea that new technology had to be introduced to an enterprise slowly—starting with a proof-of-concept and continuing in subsequent waves—showed itself to be simply untrue. In 2021 and beyond, we will begin to see the end of the drip, drip of slow rollouts. Everyone will be thrown into the pool feet first, and this will speed up change and deployment processes for good.
10 Video Works
This final one is obvious, and we’ve been saying it for years. But, in 2021, we will finally have achieved the future that we’ve been touting and promising for decades. Video
collaboration is now often as good as (and sometimes even better than) being there. It took a deadly disease to show the masses how easy and useful video collaboration is as a business tool. Yes, it can be fatiguing sometimes, and, yes, we’d all rather not have to use it because there’s no safe alternative. However, the value of videoconferencing can no longer be doubted. Even today, if one looks at the various video platforms, the things they now boast about are special backgrounds, unique views and security abilities. Only a short time ago, they were trying to convince people that video actually worked and could be trusted to make successful and reliable calls. That shift is a sure sign that we’ve finally gotten over the hurdle of people wondering, “Will video work?”
We, indeed, have come a long way in a short period.
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