February 25, 2021 6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In recent months, it’s been hard to look ahead or plan for the future. Instead, individuals and businesses have been forced to adapt on the fly and do whatever they can to respond to and cope with the COVID-19 crisis and the myriad of changes it has brought.
However, as the end of the crisis begins to be in sight and everyone settles into the new pandemic norms, there are opportunities for leaders to look forward and to anticipate some trends that are likely to impact businesses in the coming months.
It’s key for leaders to keep up with these trends. Doing so enables them to help their businesses stay competitive, lead their industry, and better meet consumer demands and expectations. With that in mind, here are five trends that leaders should plan for and anticipate.
1. Changes in consumer habits will outlast COVID-19
Consumer habits shifted almost overnight when the pandemic initially began. However, as people have figured out new systems and created new habits, it’s likely that many of those shifts will continue even after the crisis has passed. As such, leaders should anticipate an increased preference for e-commerce and virtual services.
Businesses offering these services have thrived during the pandemic. Obviously, e-commerce businesses like Amazon have seen a boom, but so have businesses offering services like at-home fitness, telemedicine, gaming, food delivery, and cybersecurity. It’s likely that there will be continued growth for businesses offering virtual services. Leaders should anticipate these ongoing shifts and ensure that they are offering e-commerce and virtual services as much as possible.
2. Continued reliance on working remotely
Businesses had to quickly shift their model last spring to have employees work remotely. While this was somewhat chaotic and difficult for many at first, over the past few months teams have found ways to make working remotely smooth and effective. Tools to make remote working easier have grown and developed, and services like Slack, Zoom, Teams, and Google Hangouts have become mainstream and second nature for employees.
While all employees don’t like working from home, many have found that they prefer to work from home, and the reality is that many managers have found that working from home leads to increased productivity. As a result, many businesses plan to continue having employees work remotely for the long-term. In fact, a recent Intermedia survey found that 57% of small to medium-sized businesses are planning to continue to offer remote work options.
For leaders, this means that this year is the time to rethink what your workplace looks like. Rather than having to simply react to a crisis, now is the time to consider how to make working remotely most effective for your team. Maybe this means increased technology or software or maybe it means offering options for in-person or hybrid models. While the specifics will vary from team to team, leaders should plan for long-term shifts towards remote working options.
3. Increased reliance on AI and automation
Automation and AI technology continue to improve and become more useful for businesses of all types. As operations and logistics start to return to normal, businesses will increasingly look to automation, AI, robotics, and the Internet of Things to better meet consumer demands and to improve operational efficiency.
Whenever possible, teams will take people out of the system and instead rely on automation. While this has become increasingly mainstream in warehouses and logistics, expect to see automation spread to more and more industries.
For some leaders, these shifts seem daunting and overly complex. However, as this technology improves, it’s increasingly important for businesses to utilize these tools to stay competitive and to maximize efficiency.
4. More strategic use of data
As technology improves and more automation is used, one benefit is that there is more and more data available to businesses. This data can help provide insight into customers’ habits and needs and leads to improved decision-making.
However, there is now such much data available that it can be overwhelming. Without the right tools to analyze and prioritize data, it can be distracting and unhelpful. The result is that there is an ongoing shift towards improved systems for processing and analyzing data. This is a trend that will continue and teams should work to ensure that they are effectively finding ways to strategically use data for improved decision making and to better understand customers.
5. Increased preferences for local goods
Over the past year, there have been widespread disruptions to supply chains and logistics. These disruptions coupled with global tensions have led many companies and consumers to rethink where goods are sourced and sold.
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Many businesses are moving their manufacturing closer to their customers and, at the same time, many consumers are paying more attention to where goods are made, with a preference for locally sourced goods. From a consumer perspective, this shift not only leads to fewer disruptions but also leads to increased jobs for local economies. Further, it’s a more environmentally friendly solution, which is popular as more customers and businesses are focused on sustainability.
In light of the challenges of the last year and in shifts in consumer expectations, leaders should evaluate their manufacturing and supply chain models and look for opportunities to source goods locally.
Coming out of the chaos
The last year has been a chaotic and disruptive one for many businesses. As some semblance of normalcy returns, it’s time for leaders to focus their attention ahead to ensure that they’re anticipating and preparing for key market trends. With that in mind, make sure that you take some time to evaluate your business and industry and to plan for some of the shifts that are ahead in the coming months.