So far, do the 2020s match the vision of the future that you had in mind a few years ago? Probably not. The unpredictable and unprecedented nature of the crisis that took us all by surprise at the beginning of 2020 has demonstrated that virtually no business is really future-proof.
This does not however mean that we’ve entered an age where businesses have lost grip over their future. In fact, some are better prepared than others to face and tackle the emerging challenges that are reshaping the business spheres.
Here’s an overview of what it means to be “future-ready” in the 2020s.
Technology as a Lifeline for the Future of Your Business
Digital maturity and fluency are now core competencies for any self-respecting business. Those that had resisted the digital waves of the past decades no longer had a choice in the face of the digital tsunami of the first months of 2020, as virtually everything suddenly moved online.
New technology has the power to streamline and transform operations across the value chain, to create efficiencies at scale, to significantly reduce administrative overhead and bureaucracy, to generate synergy and open up new paths. The businesses that have recognized and understood that power were way better prepared to cope with the crisis. They’re also much better armed to face what the future might bring.
In fact, many companies have leveraged the crisis to accelerate adoption of new technology and step up investment in research and development. They’re now continuing with the best practices they’ve adopted during the lockdown periods and moving ahead with their digital transformation roadmaps.
As the data of a business has become its key strategic asset, technology-readiness must now include proper data-handling hygiene. It has become mission-critical for digital businesses to comply with increasingly stringent data privacy regulations and to deploy advanced cybersecurity strategies to protect information systems from ever more sophisticated threats.
The Human Factor of Business
Prospectivists sometimes tend to paint a future governed by machines and algorithms. While technology is increasingly key to business success, it is of equal importance not to overlook the human factor.
The COVID-19 crisis has dramatically accelerated the workspace revolution. Remote working is not new. Some companies have actually been remote-first for some time now. But the mass realization that most jobs can be done from anywhere has deeply changed the way people view and approach work and business after COVID. From social interactions in the workplace to hierarchies, from work-life balance expectations to corporate cultures, every aspect of human resource management was disrupted by the brutal shift to remote working worldwide.
Businesses need to adapt swiftly to these new mindsets and adjust the way they hire, retain, and nurture talented staff. As some regions of the world are struggling with labor shortage, future-ready employers need to meet new employee demands by offering flexibility on the job, seamless and high-performance technology systems enabling anytime, anywhere access and interactions, as well as a strong focus on company mission, purpose, culture, and values. This last part is especially important: people are placing an increased premium on such values as diversity, inclusion, and sustainability. This is true of talent, but also of consumers.
Sustainability as a New, Post-Covid Business Standard
Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria have gained huge importance over the past years. Everything indicates that the COVID crisis has only reinforced that trend. While the intrinsic qualities of product and services are still decisive factors in purchase decisions, and good customer experience (e.g. great purchase journey, timely and relevant marketing, overnight delivery, and flexible return policy) is increasingly valued, today’s consumers and markets expect more. The COVID-19 crisis has inspired many of us to consume and live more responsibly. More and more consumers want the products and the brands they shop to align with their own social and environmental commitments. They expect companies to proactively embrace circular principles, to genuinely “green” their operations and supply chains, and to commit to fair and inclusive management practices.
Making operations more sustainable is no longer just a matter of compliance with regulatory requirements; it’s not only “the right thing to do”; it is now a competitive imperative and a prerequisite to post-COVID business survival.
Future-Ready Business: Change-Ready Business
All of the challenges and trends explored above involve sweeping change in the way of doing business. Change may well be the trademark of our times. As the pace of transformation keeps accelerating, the best definition of a future-ready business is perhaps a change-ready business.
Most of the companies and organizations that are emerging as winners out of the COVID-19 crisis shared common traits. They have a positive attitude to change and a sense of excitement about the future. Further, they view crises as a great opportunity to experiment with new things.
These organizations are willing to adapt and embrace new trends or adopt new technology. They are ready to let go of traditional hierarchies and switch to more agile and horizontal models, and empower their workforce to try and fail. In doing so, they incentivize managers and leaders to keep learning and evolving. They recognize that disruption has become a fact of life and they’re taking it in stride.