This is by no means complete, but what I’m thinking will be the most relevant to start-ups, nonprofits, and creative business owners in the year ahead.
I.T. Gets a Seat at the Table (Even for the Stragglers)
I think 2021 will go down as the year when even the smallest nontechnical businesses will be incorporating tech into their business plans. Think how even old-school restaurants and retail have had to focus on delivery and contactless payments. The bottom line is that business strategy is inseparable from technology strategy – what tools your organization will use, how they contribute to revenue, getting your customers to understand them, who sets them up and manages them. These issues will demand that your technology team is involved earlier and more often during strategic decision-making conversations. Especially in an unpredictable year requiring hefty doses of agility as things keep changing, day by day.
A few conversation topics we hear over and over in our Business Technology Reviews with clients:
How can we use our technology to work better as a company and actually make more profit – supplying a true return on our investment?
How can we save drastically by reconceptualizing the type of office we rent?
Which tools and practices are required to stay safe from the hacks we keep reading about?
Working (Better) Remotely
2020 was the year that saw a lot of organizations scrambling to get their employees access to office data and equipment while working from home. While the tech to do this is obviously not new, we saw too often that plans were not in place and had to be sorted out at the last second. And then, as one-month shutdowns persisted into the 10th month with no end in sight, people mostly kept up with their improvisational first tries.
2021 needs to be the year that remote work approaches are revisited – to see how we can benefit from remote tools while leaving employees with an actual work/life balance intact. This looks different for different orgs, but includes using Teams/Slack as actual work hubs rather than mere chat rooms, revising work-from-home policies with real human expectations of when (and when NOT) to get work done, creating actually usable company Wikis and “Just in Time” documentation practices so people understand what to do without shoulder tapping (or relentlessly slacking) their managers.
In my own company, a few ways we’re working towards these goals are:
1. Moving from Slack into Teams and funneling as much of our workflow as possible into it
2. Implementing more formalized goal-setting and 1:1 meeting rhythm
3. Revising and drastically simplifying our business process & technical documentation
Changing Definition of ‘The Office’
As I mentioned previously, I have had dozens of conversations since COVID hit about the future of the physical office given all we have learned in the last 10 months. Executives and employees have seen that office jobs can be done pretty darn well from home. Sure, people still need a chance to gather. Managing a remote team requires learning new skills, and myriad security issues materialize along with WFH. But we have seen that thousands of organizations have continued to function unimpacted, even with employees at home and a pandemic raging outside.
My take on this is we’ll see “hybrid” work schedules become the norm in organizations that require or remain committed to their leases, while many others will migrate to various flavors of co-working:
1. Hybrid work schedules allow organizational leaders to offer the flexibility of remote work while still ensuring their team spends at least a few days a week (or month) at the office. Benefits are myriad, including employee satisfaction, the potential to shrink the office (saving $) since people are working in shifts, and reduced exposure to pandemic health risk.
2. WeWork defined a generation of co-working, and many will still seek the type of atmosphere they offered: flexible desk and lease arrangements offered to general freelancers, small firms, and the occasional small branch of a larger company. All offered in a typical “office building” environment.
3. Our client Second Home defines a new wave of co-working – designing a stunning architectural space, appealing to a narrower demographic to supply an incentive to leave home, and countless cultural benefits. This creation of a niche community allows members to truly do business together and cross-pollinate ideas.
4. We are also hearing of colleagues designing a shared workspace for companies operating in one single vertical. This allows the tenants to receive help from shared technology infrastructure (think production studios and plotting printers), supportability, and be able to refer to complementary projects.
Cybersecurity Gets Personal
While it’s nothing new, this is truly the year that the personal implications of cybersecurity will really start to hit home. We are all living our personal lives online more than ever – whether that means storing our vacation photos in iPhoto, managing our banking online, running Facebook groups, or backing up our android phones to our Google accounts. And the breaches we read about every day in the news mean the usernames & passwords we use to secure these personal accounts are floating around the Dark Web more than ever.
This means, in plain language, that even unsophisticated hackers can wreak havoc on our personal and family data – either just to cause mischief or to demand ransoms to get it back. Even more concerning, it means that identity theft is on the rise – leading to expensive and time-consuming situations where stolen cell phone numbers and social security numbers are used to facilitate endless financial fraud with fake bank accounts, credit cards, mortgage loans, and unemployment claims made against targets for months and years on end.
2021 will be the year that more laypeople finally understand this and take steps to protect themselves. Steps like enabling 2-factor on personal accounts, adding extra PIN codes on cell phones, backing up photos and other digital memories, and educating families on the various cyber risks out there.
Hacks Become Ubiquitous
The last quarter of 2020 and the first few days of 2021 have seen an unimaginable amount of cyber threats at the very highest levels of the U.S. government and the largest companies in the world, including Microsoft. Not to mention the cyber risks of outsiders breaching the U.S. Capitol, stealing laptops, and doing who knows what else. This leaves us in an interesting place – we must assume that hacks and breaches will happen, and ALSO do everything we can to prevent them from happening.
We predict more organizations than ever will invest in their cyber protection in order to protect their data, keep their boards happy, and, importantly, satisfy the growing demands of their CLIENTS for safely securing project info. This will require partnering with firms that have mature security practices. Just because someone says they’re protecting you doesn’t mean they really are.
To that end, we imagine more people will be asking for 3rd party audits of their I.T. and security partners to gain solid proof that security providers are delivering on their promises. Even if more determined hackers can’t be kept out, getting audits and following best practices at least assure that cyber insurance policies will pay out if anything goes wrong. Which, unfortunately, given the circumstances, seems more like a WHEN than an IF.