Few would argue that the 21st century is second to none when it comes to broad spectrum technological advancements. Innovations such as 3D printing, Augmented Reality, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Smartphones, Digital Assistants and online streaming are only a few examples of technologies that have significantly changed the way we think and live. Perhaps that's why there is an astounding disparity between human societies today, versus those in 2000, or even those in 2010.
Similarly, the business landscape has never been more competitive than it is today, with companies across various industries innovating and setting new standards with each product or service they introduce. In 2020, we saw Covid-19 slow down the world economy and causing a recessionary phase, one that many nations are still recovering from. However, given the innate nature of humans to never settle, it doesn't seem as though companies will stop innovating anytime soon. What's in store for us? What can we expect not only as prospective workers, but as customers as well this year? Let's find out.
Trends are interesting. They come, and they go; some staying longer than others. Talking about trends can often make us feel good about the fact that we're not living under a rock. While it's true that Covid-19 didn't particularly make 2020 the easiest of years, it did give rise to certain trends here and there. One notable trend being, working from home, something discussed further in this blog. As we head into 2021, there are numerous upcoming trends, particularly in Business & Technology that we can look out for this year.
To help expand on this topic, I'm joined by Aaron Schnoor, a full time student, pursuing Business Administration and Economics with a major in Trust and Wealth Management at Campbell University, North Carolina. Aaron is an occasional writer, having his own publication on Medium titled 'The Intelligence of Everything' where he writes pieces on Business, Technology, Productivity and Lifestyle.
Trend #1. Working from Home
It's safe to say that the trends discussed in this blog may not entirely be new to us, in fact many of these started in 2020 or before and are expected to grow out this year. It's more so about knowing the significance of each of these trends, and also why they're here to stay. Starting off with one that we saw heaps of in 2020: working from home. Covid-19, social distancing and isolation saw companies organise seminars, meetings and recommend general workflows from home. We also saw this transition into university campuses with online lectures and classes replacing in person ones. Many believe that the work from home culture is here to stay, and won't subside even after Covid-19.
"Covid-19 created a lot of disruption and chaos, but it also accelerated some trends that we saw leading upto 2020. Many of our fellow students and Gen Zs, who graduated in the spring/summer of 2020, began their full time career working from home. For many people our age, this is the new norm for them. It's something we probably would have seen in the future anyway; but last year we hit a point where many companies chose to develop the necessary infrastructure that allowed employees to work from home efficiently."
With so much of what we do taking place on the 'cloud', working from home has never been easier than it is today. While the effectiveness of working from home depends on the nature of work performed, the average office employee can find that joining a video chat or completing daily tasks from home is easier and convenient more often than not. According to a survey, over 40% of the American labour force worked from home in 2020, with 26% wanting to continue working this way. Additionally, 94% of surveyed employers claimed that overall productivity increased by 35-40% after switching to work from home. Possible reasons behind these metrics could be decreased workplace distractions, and improvements in job satisfaction and employee mental health.
Work from home has also affected many other factors, adding onto its popularity. One example is real estate. Big metropolitan cities such as Sydney, London, Mumbai and New York are so dense that the real estate market is seemingly always on the rise. For a worker moving interstate to a big city, finding a house near the office may not always be feasible. As a result, numerous such workers have to resort to long commute times daily just to get to work every day. Working from home helps save this time and money spent on transportation, keeping aside any reductions in pollution or CO2 emissions. Employees and potential applicants who were previously restricted geographically from working for a company, can operate easily by working from home. It's no surprise the user base of online communication services have shot up within the last year....we're looking at you Zoom.
If there's one thing I've noticed about Gen Zs over the past few years, it's that most of them prefer to be left alone, especially when they're working. They don't always like working in a team, and would much rather prefer working at their own pace from the comfort of their home. Emphasis on 'pace', for all the fellow procrastinators out there.
Trend #2. Business Ecosystems
By definition, the term 'ecosystem' in business, is the idea of having a range of products or services that together constitute an interconnected solution. A solution that's designed to hook the customer in, and keep them in. It's basically companies telling you that "We know you like one of our products, why not try out another one, and another...since they're all connected. Win-win right?"
A great example of this is multinational tech giant Apple. Think of anyone who owns an iPhone, and see whether or not they own another Apple product as well. Maybe a MacBook, maybe an iPad. Maybe both. The concept behind an ecosystem based service offering is that the companies efficiently designs each device and software to provide customers with one integrated solution, so that we don't have to look or bother anywhere else. In Apple's case, it's the iCloud storage feature, where all files, music and photos synchronise with ease, allowing for easy sharing and accessibility across all devices. The user interface (UI) of these devices is also therefore similar, if not the same. Since we use these on a daily basis, we become so accustomed to the UI that 'leaving the ecosystem' eventually becomes difficult.
I promise I'm not trying to sell Apple products through this blog, but it does help make my point. If you've ever watched any of Apple's advertisements or presentations, you may notice that they almost seldom talk about the technical bits about their products. Product aspects like RAM amount, battery size, camera specifications and so on. This is because Apple sells the user experience (UX), in simple-to-understand layman terms. Once again I assure you, this is not a sponsored post.
"Consumers want efficiency, not have to be switching between different products. Tesla is another great company where instead of just focusing on the electric car, it's a whole lifestyle the you have to invest in. By investing, you'll be saving in the long run by not having to pay for gas, while also helping the environment due to decreased pollution. You won't have to worry about fuel prices at the gas station, or oil prices going up. By setting up Tesla charging stations around different cities, Tesla eases the entire process by tapping into that consumer experience."
Nearly all of the big tech companies are focusing on developing some type of an ecosystem for their consumer base. Tesla, as mentioned above is setting up charging stations and also manufacturing power wall systems to charge up homes as well as its electric car range for customers. Google has its own G-Suite set up where members can access all of Google's apps (Gmail, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, and so on) with extra storage and benefits. The list is endless, and can prove to be the differentiating factor for companies in a market.
Competition + Inspiration?
Rewinding back to 2016, Instagram introducing 'stories' on their platform, as a direct response to Snapchat stories. As a result, consumers realised that why use both platforms when one allows you to do a lot more than the other. This, combined with a huge wave of people flocking to Instagram, led to Snapchat losing out on valuable customers. That wasn't the last of it though. In fact, last year we saw TikTok's rise to fame with its short, consumer-made video clips that people could relate to. Instagram responded to this as well, introducing Instagram Reels. Recently, Snapchat introduced its own feature titled 'Spotlight', which operates under the same principle. Is it fair to call these companies 'competitors', given that they take a piece out of each other's book every now and then?
"Consumers don't just use one and call it quits. Consumers use one and then search for another, and so they scroll through TikTok, then scroll through Reels, and then Spotlight; going back and forth. There always seem to be a greater need for social media. It's interesting how these companies are drawing on each other and feeding off each other. Social media companies have found that they're able to create a system and compete with one another in a way where, consumers are drawn to multiple services at once. This is an age of innovation and entrepreneurship, and we as students can be a part of that either as consumers, or as companies."
Most consumers nowadays have developed a short attention span, due to online presence on social media. The increased exposure to different technologies, videos and posts that social media offers has made it difficult for us to focus for too long on one specific task. Tech companies capitalise on this behaviour by presenting quick and easily accessible content that we can enjoy. TikTok is the perfect example of this, tapping into the customer's behavioural patterns of looking, swiping, looking again.
Thinking about these companies intricately helps realise that they're not as different as they seem. There's this mutual respect for one another, but also active acknowledgement for the existing competition.
Trend #3. Socially Responsible Operations
A by-product of having so much content online and on social media, is that consumers have become largely vocal about pretty much anything and everything under the sun. Pick up any product or service you can think of, there's a high chance someone, somewhere has talked about it online, shared a review or discussed its limitations. Whether its a Reddit thread, a YouTube video, an Instagram Reel, and so on. Because of this, customers are becoming more and more aware of what goes on behind the scenes in these companies. Anytime a company is under fire by the media for irresponsible social practices, the world gets to know. A great example is Amazon, who are infamous for treating their employees unfairly in certain countries across the globe.
For more information on Data Privacy and Marketing, check out another blog post discussing these issues in more detail: here.
Eco - Friendly Substitutes
Another trend relating to being social responsible is switching towards environmentally sustainably alternatives. Keeping all factors aside, if a customer has to choose between an eco-friendly product made it sustainable materials and responsible practices, versus one that is not; most likely the customer will choose the former. A survey of over 1,000 consumers in the UK and USA conducted by Futerra found that 96% believe their actions such as donating, recycling or buying ethically can make a difference. This chart summarises the findings:
Companies like Tesla began the trend of building electric cars because Elon Musk had a vision for the future. Now, other car manufacturers such as Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Nissan and Toyota are all introducing their own range of electric vehicles because that's the direction the market is heading. Clothing companies like Boden and Tentree are striving to provide ethically sourced, sustainable clothing for customers by planting trees, reducing the environmental footprint and ensuring fair, safe working conditions. It's something that's driving business in multiple industries, so it's no surprise to see more and more companies embracing the eco-friendly trend. As customers and Gen Zs become aware of what goes on behind the manufacturing and sale of their favourite products and services; companies need to 'up their game' in order to stay competitive. We live in a society where innovation is fostered and encouraged, the biggest beneficiaries of all being, none other than us: the consumers.
What a time to be alive.
For a brief summary of this blog post, visit Medium
I'd like to offer my sincere gratitude to today's guest- Aaron Schnoor. Check out:
Aaron's Medium page: https://aaronschnoor.medium.com