Normal in 2021 - three big trends that will shape work and commerce

Andrew Lawson Profile picture for user Andrew Lawson December 15, 2020
As a year in which traditional work practices have been forced to adapt draws to a close, Zendesk's Andrew Lawson ponders three trends for the next twelve months

2021 new smart technology, and new technology trend in 2021 © Sasin Paraksa - Shutterstock
(© Sasin Paraksa - Shutterstock)

For over nine months we've all been rolling the idea of normal around in our quarantined minds. Normal as we knew it vanished overnight. What's the new normal? When is the next normal? Once the vaccines arrive, and in sufficient quantities for everyone, how much will the next normal resemble the old normal?

There is no new or next. Normal is here. Normal is now. And it's just… normal.

No one would've wished for this year's hardships and tragedies. And yet, under circumstances more trying than many might ever have imagined could be an ongoing force of daily life, we have learned that we are capable of things we didn't realize. The year has forced rapid change. In that, we've also discovered that quite a few things we said were impossible... are now normal.

As one highly unforgettable year comes to a close and a fresh new one is upon us, we take a look at some of the trends that are likely to define the coming 12 months for businesses and consumers alike.

The workforce will be a hybrid of remote and in-office

Many companies have been fully remote since the Spring and plan to continue in this vein until vaccines are fully rolled out. At that point, plans and expectations diverge and will create unique opportunities and challenges for recruiters and professionals. Twitter announced early on that its workforce could stay completely remote, permanently. But while the pandemic has liberated many from long commutes and noisy offices, there is a vocal contingent of workers who thrive on the collaboration and camaraderie of office life.

Recruiters at fully remote companies may find it tricky to lure the top talent that craves an in-person working experience. But plenty of companies are showing that fully remote work can work pretty beautifully, and make people happy. Whether teams are fully remote or adapting to a hybrid of remote and in-office, building new virtual-first work practices will be a big focus point next year to ensure smooth collaboration and that no one gets left behind. As leaders, how do we make sure that those quieter remote workers still have their voices heard?

In 2021, human resources teams will keep working closely with IT departments to implement and optimally use tools that foster seamless communication and collaboration between companies and employees, and among teams, to make the remote experience even more smooth.

Messaging is ever more central

For the past several years, consumers have increasingly expected to be able to communicate with companies on the channel of their choice - and here the pace of change has been accelerating. Recent research by McKinsey on consumer sentiment in 45 countries shows that 65% of consumers surveyed have a 'high intent' to incorporate the different shopping behaviors they tried out during the pandemic going forward. This research also reports on a 'flight to digital' that continues globally to varying degrees. The popularity of messaging apps has gone mainstream, with the use of messaging apps for service more than doubling since February of this year. Different customers have different preferences, but the commonality — all of your customers will expect you to be available on the messaging app they prefer. Messaging is truly a must-have now.

To compete, your company will have to be fluent in support via messaging. This is a good thing — messaging allows for streamlined, conversational experiences between your agents and your customers. Better support is part of the foundation of customer loyalty. But that's just the start — messaging is a building block in a 360-degree brand conversation that involves not just customer support but also sales, marketing, and customer engagement. The potential of messaging is so rich, in fact, that quick answers over WhatsApp might someday preclude the need to browse a website before a purchase.

Agility will gain traction in a digital world

The business landscape will likely not get a break from volatility anytime soon, and for that reason, companies must be ever more agile. That's not a new development — agility has always been a focus area for IT teams. But the pace of change has seen an acceleration in the past 12 months that isn't likely to slow down. The ability to adjust quickly to change will be a massive goalpost for the coming 12 months.

More and more, customers are saying that the customer experience is more important to them now than it was 12 months ago. Those businesses who value great customer experience intrinsically or at least understand how much their customers do have widened the gap with their more laggard competitors. There is of course real opportunity for those who are playing catch-up — flexible and open platforms, agile tools and incremental changes that deliver quick ROI should be the baseline. To do this, weekly reporting won't be enough anymore. Real-time data is invaluable in helping teams understand where and how to quickly adapt.

If the only constant is change — and I think the past 12 months have proven that, then the only certainty is that businesses need to be ready to adapt to change. As normal continues to unfold, business success will hinge on the ability to swiftly respond to customer needs and expectations.

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