Business Trends 2021 – What Do They Mean For Students?
While I’m sure the majority of us couldn’t wait to see the back of 2020, many in the business world have spent time at the end of last year reflecting on the events of the last twelve months. It is undeniable that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, not to mention other tumultuous world events, will be felt for years to come. This applies to the international business community as much as it does to other sectors, with clear business trends emerging across the board.
Writing for Forbes at the end of 2020, business experience expert Shep Hyken highlighted his 10 business predictions for 2021. These predictions included the rising business savvy and expectations of clients and customers, and the increasing automisation, digitisation and personalisation of business models. For business students, this rapid pace of change means there is a need to prepare now for what the business world may look like in 2021 – and beyond. Here are some of the key business trends to look out for and what they mean for students now and in the future.
Virtual and remote working is here to stay
One of the biggest business trends forecasters don’t seeing going anywhere soon is the need for remote working. The mass upheaval from businesses to move their teams from to the office to the virtual workspace in early 2020 is acknowledged as an acceleration of a trend that was already gaining momentum. But that doesn’t mean it has been an easy transition.
While there are benefits for many, the move to a virtual or blended work and study model poses new challenges. A major concern for universities is the mental health of their students, ensuring that they feel connected to others and part of a vibrant learning community. ‘Zoom fatigue’ is real, so we might see students turning to other forms of communication, like telephone calls, to separate their social life from their study.
Diversity, equity and inclusion move centre-stage
While businesses have been becoming increasingly international in their outlook and reach, ensuring diversity within the workforce has taken longer to move beyond carefully worded Diversity, Equity and Inclusion statements and into positive action. Speaking specifically about the move towards racial equality in business, John Rice, founder and CEO of Management Leadership of Tomorrow, predicts that companies will recognise the importance of implementing ‘rigorous plans and measurable goals’ to ensure diversity, equality and inclusion.
‘Corporate leaders will begin to match DEI commitments with a comprehensive approach that holds themselves accountable for progress like they do in every other aspect of their business,’ he says. ‘I anticipate we’ll see more organizations begin to lay the foundation to become anti-racist workplaces and start to implement racially just business practices.’ This shift in attitude and accountability has the potential to change what the leading teams in businesses around the world look like. Real commitment to creating truly inclusive company structures will open up new opportunities across all levels of business, including for students newly entered or about to join the professional community.
Problem-solving is key
As we’ve discussed previously on this blog, having great problem-solving skills as individuals and as teams will be more important than ever for successful businesses of the future. The ability to think and adapt quickly to the constantly shifting sands of 2020 set apart those businesses that were most agile. This will continue to hold true for 2021 and beyond. Moreover, Shep Hyken emphasises the need for businesses to anticipate those problems; ‘problems can be predicted’ he writes, and therefore businesses should be working towards a model whereby the client or customer never has occasion to complain or query.
This vision of future ‘predictive service’ may seem extreme. Nonetheless, that doesn’t negate the need for students to consider how they are innovating and improving their analytical thinking skills while studying. From taking on new learning strategies, to actively seeking out opportunities to collaborate with others, there are plenty of actions students can take to improve their problem-solving skillset.
Empathy is key to the future of business
Despite increasing automation and the rise of the virtual workspace – or maybe because of it – it is predicted that meaningful human connection will become one of the most sought-after aspects of business in 2021. Remote-workers are at risk of becoming more anxious and isolated that they would have been working in a office environment. Hyken highlights that customers are increasingly seeking connection with a real person behind a brand – or, at least, a more personable and intuitive brand experience. With that in mind, both businesses and educational institutions will have more cause to centre positive human interaction in their daily operations.
As a student, you can play your role in raising awareness of and encouraging an empathetic environment, even online. Whether you have direct influence as part of a leadership role, for example as part of the Student Council, or you are working remotely on a team project, consider how you can use your skills to best support and motivate others. Not only will this highlight your own leadership skills, but will ensure that everyone feels more connected and included in these increasingly distanced times.
The future is personal
This physical distance is just one outcome of the events of 2020 that continues to impact the way we work, study and do business in 2021. Despite this, the predictions made by Hyken and other analysts all point towards business trends that highlight people at the heart of business and education communities. Strong communication skills, collaboration and emotional intelligence remain high on business leaders’ list of priorities when looking for top candidates. According to these business trends, it seems like 2021 is set to continue in the same digital vein as 2020. All the same, it is clear that the success and growth of business depends on highly skilled, astute and adaptable people as much as it does on advancing technology.