Predictions for the start of 2021

The phrases used to describe the events of 2020 have now become a little cliché – but there’s no doubt it has been a very challenging year for every individual and every business on a global scale. From a deadly pandemic to a global movement for racial justice, the year 2020 has certainly experienced its fair share of world-shifting events.

Let’s take a look at some of the major events that took place in 2020

Australian bushfires; The country faced one of its most devastating wildfire seasons as the blazes continued from December 2019 into the new year and burned a record 47 million acres, displaced thousands of people and killed at least 34 people.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle quit royal life; The Duke and Duchess of Sussex shocked both sides of the pond on Jan. 8 when they announced they were stepping down as “senior” royals.

COVID-19 pandemic; The World Health Organization announced Jan. 9 that a deadly coronavirus had emerged in Wuhan, China. In a matter of months, the virus has spread across the globe to more than 20 million people, resulting in at least 751,000 deaths.

Stock market crash; The coronavirus pandemic triggered a global recession as numerous countries went into lockdown. The Dow Jones industrial average suffered its worst single-day point drop ever on March 9.

Black lives matter protest; The police-involved killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor this year sparked a wave of peaceful — and sometimes violent — demonstrations and riots across the world to demand an end to police brutality and racial injustice. More protests erupted in August when 29-year-old Jacob Blake was shot by a Kenosha, Wisconsin, cop and paralyzed from the waist down.

Kim Jong Un death rumours; The North Korean supreme leader fueled speculation that he was either gravely ill or dead after he missed events commemorating his grandfather Kim Il-sung on April 15. He re-emerged 20 days later in photos released by state media at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The despot, however, faced a new wave of scepticism over his health in August when a South Korean official claimed all of the appearances were faked and he was in a vegetative state.

Beirut explosion; A massive explosion at a Beirut port, sparked Aug. 4 by the accidental detonation of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, killed at least 190 people and injured thousands of others

West Coast wildfires; Deadly wildfires erupted from California to Washington state, burning millions of acres and displacing hundreds of thousands of people since mid-August.

Joe Biden becomes President-elect; Joe Biden became the 46th president of the United States on Nov. 7, defeating President Trump with a critical assist from his birth state, Pennsylvania, which delivered the votes to propel him to victory and end one of the most contentious elections in recent memory.

COVID-19 in the UK: The UK becomes the first country to approve the new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. 800,000 doses are planned for arrival in the coming days, with a further 40 million in 2021, enough to vaccinate 20 million people. The BBC reports that the jab is “the fastest vaccine to go from concept to reality, taking only 10 months to follow the same steps that normally span 10 years.

Around the world, we see many examples of resourceful responses to the world events in 2020, with companies changing their strategy to produce hand-sanitizers, protective gear, gowns and other supplies for hospitals, staff retrained to help out in hospitals, ventilators and life-saving medical devices, the list goes on.

The crisis created opportunities for businesses to become more innovative. Facing external pressures, some business leaders are stepping out of their routines and comfort zones to become creative problem-solvers. Along the way, they rediscovered their entrepreneurial spirit.

Beyond existing firms, some sectors of the economy are likely to grow. New technologies can offer numerous opportunities as the crisis transforms the products or services they can offer. Service businesses in particular are likely to see a lot of innovation in how services are created, packaged and sold.

Recent trends in China offer a glimpse of what is feasible for businesses. For example, online shopping and entertainment received a major boost during the coronavirus shutdown via online platforms like Alibaba, WeChat and their associated ecosystems.

In the health-care sector, health-related smartphone apps are proliferating. Artificial intelligence is helping hospital emergency rooms, while virtual reality has moved from an entertainment tool to a valuable resource for technical training and maintenance.

Companies that become competent and move quickly in these areas during the crisis will have a strategic advantage over their competitors in the post-pandemic economy.
In 2021, we will face challenges both familiar and unforeseen—but we will also see shoots of rejuvenation as the world thaws from lockdown. Here are some predictions of how the next year will play out.

Remote work will persist through 2021 and beyond
One of the most significant shifts for many workers in 2020 was the swift adoption of remote work. While some companies expected newly remote workers to return to the office, this is no longer a reality. Many businesses will not expect workers to come to the office five days a week, if at all, and companies will shrink or reconfigure office spaces accordingly.

“The reality is, employees will not be returning to the same office they left behind,” a 2020 remote-work study by PwC indicates. “There will be fewer people, restricted collaboration spaces and rotating shifts — all of which will require teams to find new ways to connect and collaborate. More than anything else, this need for connections is likely to shape what the office is going to represent.”

Salaries could be adjusted for remote workers

Along with the adoption of remote work during the pandemic, many employees took this opportunity to relocate. Some companies have already indicated that they will likely cut salaries to match cost-of-living expenses, which could be a significant corporate initiative in 2021.

“We predict a tidal wave of comp adjustments in 2021 as many tech and professional services workers go remote and move away from company HQs,” Glassdoor Chief Economist Andrew Chamberlain notes in the Glassdoor Workplace Trends 2021 report. “Once the dust settles on millions of employee relocations, we expect a wave of pay adjustments in 2021 for fully remote workers, whether or not they move to new cities.

Once local labor markets have adjusted to a wave of newly remote workers, the equilibrium pay for workers who’ve left expensive, congested metros like San Francisco and New York for smaller cities will almost certainly adjust downward.”

Some employers might require vaccination to come back in person

As the pandemic continues, some hope is on the horizon with promising vaccines from Pfizer and other companies. These vaccines could help employees safely come back to work in-person, and some companies are considering making the vaccine mandatory.

“A couple of my corporate clients are leaning toward making the COVID vaccine mandatory,” Rogge Dunn, a Dallas labor and employment attorney, told CNBC. “Under the law, an employer can force an employee to get vaccinated, and if they don’t take it, fire them.

Companies will reduce virtual activities and meetings

While businesses adopted virtual meetings fervently in 2020 as a way to help keep teams connected, they may not be so tied to them in 2021. As remote work becomes more of a norm, business owners could reduce these instances in order to give employees more time back to work.

“The Zoom happy hour has hit its expiration date, [with] too many long days of virtual meetings for months,” Nani Vishwanath, people team manager at Limeade, told TechRepublic. “[Employers will] gift employees with time back in 2021, such as cancelling recurring meetings or blocking a day for ‘no meetings’ and encouraging your team to recharge.”

Employees expect more diversity and company culture

Following major social and racial justice movements in 2020, companies should expect more scrutiny from employees and partners when it comes to diversity. For example, large asset manager BlackRock said it intends to push companies it has invested in for greater ethnic and gender diversity. This scrutiny will happen at the employee level as well.

“[Companies are] looking at what their policies say about company culture, what they’re willing to tolerate, what that does to employee morale, attrition and retention of employees, their reputation and ability to attract new talent and also their public perception,” Jennifer Schelfer, partner at Arnall Golden Gregory LLP, told the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “Employees are really expecting to see these initiatives in place and to see genuine support, especially from upper-level management.”

Business travel will be significantly reduced

As the pandemic continues into 2021, don’t expect travel for U.S. businesses to make a massive comeback in 2021. At the recent New York Times’ Dealbook conference, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates predicted a significant drop in business travel, and for there to be a “very high threshold” for companies that can conduct meetings from home.

“My prediction would be that over 50% of business travel and over 30% of days in the office will go away,” Gates said at Dealbook conference. “Some companies will be extreme on one end or the other. … We will go to the office somewhat [and] we’ll do some business travel, but dramatically less.” Companies will reduce virtual activities and meetings

While businesses adopted virtual meetings fervently in 2020 as a way to help keep teams connected, they may not be so tied to them in 2021. As remote work becomes more of a norm, business owners could reduce these instances in order to give employees more time back to work.

“The Zoom happy hour has hit its expiration date, [with] too many long days of virtual meetings for months,” Nani Vishwanath, people team manager at Limeade, told TechRepublic. “[Employers will] gift employees with time back in 2021, such as cancelling recurring meetings or blocking a day for ‘no meetings’ and encouraging your team to recharge.”

Economic growth could return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021

For businesses that have made it through 2020, many are wondering if the economy will come back in the next year. A December 2020 survey of the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) suggests the economy very well could roar back in the second half of 2021.

“73% percent of panellists believe that the economy will have returned to pre-pandemic GDP levels by the second half of 2021,” reports the NABE. “The 73% is a dramatic improvement from the October survey in which 38% of panellists believed that a full recovery would occur before 2022.”

Retraining and reskilling workers will be a 2021 priority
As the pandemic has put pressure on companies to lay off lower-skilled workers that can be replaced by automation or technology, some companies will also work to retrain and reskill employees.

“Cost-effective options — such as retraining, reskilling and redeployment — will continue to grow in popularity next year,” Michelle Anthony, chief revenue officer at LHH, told BenefitsPro. “Employers will be more committed to building a workforce of the future by helping employees acquire new skills so the companies can absorb downturns and market shifts without having to resort to the costly fire-and-hire cycle.”

Finally, it’s clear the post-pandemic future will be different. What’s happened during the crisis will have a lasting impact on society. Current signs of entrepreneurial initiative and goodwill give us some cause for optimism. The future I envision post-COVID is one where people and businesses are prepared and enabled through technology.

Whether it is to continue business operations or maintain access to essential needs, the digital economy will play a crucial role in all aspects of our lives. This is the brave new world we will have to create together, and now is the time to empower and work with entrepreneurs to help build it.

As Brian A. Wong – Vice President, Alibaba quoted by saying:

“SMEs are the backbone of any society for job creation and economic contribution. They are the pathfinders during the journey to economic recovery.”

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