As 2020 comes to an end, business leaders should reflect on the challenges they've had to tackle, and the innovative solutions that have helped them navigate through the struggles caused by the ongoing pandemic.

Businesses spanning all sectors have accelerated their digital transformation and turned to the latest technologies to get them through.

In this piece, we have compiled 4 predictions from leaders in technology, who have shared their insights on what the year ahead holds for businesses:

1. More support for upskilling and personal growth

Anna Brailsford, CEO, Code First Girls:

"Today, women make up only 17% of IT specialists in the UK, and a mere 35% of women pursuing STEM at higher education level - but this is changing. As we transition into 2021, companies globally will take the opportunity to reshape the way we work and fight to achieve gender parity in the workplace. By empowering women to upskill in technology, businesses across industries can establish a work culture that enables women to thrive.

"At a time when businesses are facing increased uncertainty, a highly-skilled diverse team is invaluable and such a workforce doesn’t need to be solely outsourced. Instead, forward-looking organisations will look to their existing employees and provide opportunities to support upskilling and personal growth. Whether in person or through the use of a video-conferencing tool, businesses can partner with organisations dedicated to creating tailored training sessions - empowering attendees with new skills and perspectives. Not only does this help futureproof the business, but this also demonstrates a commitment to a company culture that values its employees.

"In the new year, don’t rest on your laurels. Take the initiative to set an industry example for 2021, educate and upskill women. The businesses that get this right, and build a diverse and inclusive workplace for women, will thrive.”

2. Flexibility will become the norm as businesses start to rethink nine to five working hours

Sacha Michaud, Co-founder, Glovo:

"2020 has already seen drastic changes in the gig economy. From the passing of California’s Proposition 22, to the latest rulings in Spain classifying food delivery couriers as employees, this year has challenged businesses in the space more than ever. It has and will change the way we work forever. Looking ahead to 2021, there will be even more of an emphasis on the legislation around the gig economy as more people turn to the sector for work as a result of the pandemic.

"The flexibility provided by the gig economy will gradually become the norm among businesses globally. Whether it’s moving away from rigid working hours, or giving teams new responsibilities, the trend is set to continue. Flexibility is essential to survive the pandemic as people need to ensure they have a good work life balance - not only for their mental wellbeing but for productivity and work satisfaction. To successfully thrive in 2021, businesses should start to rethink the nine to five working hours and allow teams the autonomy to uncover how they work most productively. With good regulation in place organisations can provide maximum flexibility for workers and at the same time giving them solid social rights.

"With the gig economy being an option many workers are turning to during the pandemic, it is imperative that industry players, governments and labour unions create new agreements to protect our essential workers while providing flexible work. As a European company it's extremely important to us to face the challenges of the future of work head on and ensure workers can retain flexibility while still being protected.”

3. More businesses will recognise the value of hiring freelancers

Liron Smadja, Senior Director of Global Brand Marketing & International Expansion, Fiverr:

“Whilst the pandemic has been incredibly hard on small businesses - one key learning has been the proof that many employees can work from anywhere, any time. Even as vaccines become available, it’s unlikely we will go back to the office full time. The demand for full-time office work simply isn’t there. Business leaders therefore need to ensure they are equipping their staff with the skills to manage and operate in a hybrid team.

"The workforce structure itself is also changing, and we’ll see this coming to fruition in 2021. Many businesses don’t want to take the risk of hiring full-time employees to meet spikes in work that may prove transient - so we believe the year ahead will bring with it a continued trend towards agility. Bringing freelance specialists in to fully digitised workflows to help cope with this extra demand is something we’ve seen many businesses doing through 2020 - and expect the trend to continue to grow through 2021.

"More businesses will recognise the value of hiring freelancers as a solution to filling in the skills gap they may have in their immediate teams. Opting to hire freelancers rather than full-time employees will help small businesses be able to acquire an agile, on-demand workforce which can help with their wider business goals without affecting their cash flow.”

4. More support to help employees manage their wellbeing

Dean Sadler 100x100Dean Sadler, CEO and Founder at Tribepad, said:

"The one trend we cannot ignore is our new style of working. Remote working is here to stay. For many, it brings that work / life balance we have come to appreciate. However, whilst lockdown has taken away the commute, it has also taken us away from basic human interactions. The cornerstone of successful working relationships.

"Looking forward, we will try to get the best of both worlds. The option of working from home, with the reassurance of having an assigned desk in the office. But times are tough, and money needs to be spent wisely, which is why we will see a rise in hub offices next year. With fewer employees in the office, business owners don’t need to pay for an office that holds capacity for the whole team.

"Looking at the wider recruitment strategy for businesses in 2021, by spring - when we will hopefully begin to see it pick up - there will be a huge influx of job applications. As businesses will start to open their recruiting doors again. While we have seen mass job losses, we will likely, and hopefully, witness a mass hiring spree. 

"A recent report has suggested that throughout COVID-19, firms have been spurred to look inwards for appropriate talent. And this will most likely be the case for larger businesses throughout 2021. They have the capability and funds to invest in wider learning and development programmes; building up their current employees’ skills, rather than them having to outsource for new talent. 

"However, SMEs that are suffering financially, may have to adopt new recruitment strategies. Either paying less in the long-run by outsourcing talent - which may take far more time and money than they ideally would like to spend. Or automating inefficient processes and utilising the skills they currently have in their current workforce. Each business is different, and will need to do what is right for them. 

"The success, or failure, of managing employee health and wellbeing will also be a massive trend in 2021. 2020 has put a huge amount of pressure on employees' mental state, with the impact of COVID-19 putting a pause on many career goals. It will be HR teams and line managers’ roles to help employees manage the implications the crisis has had on their wellbeing. Especially those who were put on furlough, who haven’t been working for months on end. It has been an uncertain time for all, but there are plenty of ways businesses can help employees maintain positive mental health. Regular one-to-one catch ups, or mental health first aiders and support groups, will go a long way in supporting those in need during this challenging time."

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