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The workforce in 2021 – are you prepared?

remote work
(Image credit: Image Credit: Gpointstudio / Shutterstock)

There’s no mistaking that last year had a big impact on business across the world and the restrictions faced have been a catalyst for change. Many of the drivers towards change that we have seen, were already there, they just weren’t always considered crucial, or perhaps were deemed as something for the future roadmap. The reality was that businesses simply weren’t quite ready to trust their people working where they couldn’t see and manage them.

Then along came 2020 and no one had planned for it. When the first signs of the pandemic hit, businesses had to suddenly react and create a structure that could cope with the disruption. It was all about responding to change and acting quickly. We saw many organizations from both the public and private sector quickly leap onto free trials for collaboration and remote connectivity tools, enabling users to carry on working from home and delivering vital services. The result? As organizations reached for the nearest technological lifeline, we saw a plethora of collaboration tools being adopted but often without the necessary long-term strategic direction required when considering this type of investment.

2021 will be the aftermath as everyone looks at how the landscape has shifted and what plans they need to rebuild and reinforce. Those free trials have quickly become fully paid subscriptions, as users are now empowered to work from anywhere at any time. It’s a certainty that not everyone will remain a home worker after 2020 but there will be a huge increase in work from anywhere technology. Now business have a new way of working and a new suite of technologies which enable that. Bringing those together so that they are efficient and cost-effective will come next and we’ll see this in three main areas:

  • Communications Access – a move away from just allowing people to talk to each other and instead enabling true integration and enterprise mobility. For example, integrating different communications platforms so users can seamlessly talk to colleagues, customers or partners. With back end business processes this will be a case of creating the same level of operation utilizing more cloud services whilst spending less. For many businesses this will require them to confront some of the blockers which have been facing them in relation to cloud, whether those are around security, privacy and criticality of data or in adhering to regulatory compliance.
  • Meetings and team-based communication – with ‘social distancing’ now in everyone’s vocabulary, meeting rooms will become less densely packed. Many workplaces will look to accelerate the process of creating smaller focus spaces in lieu of larger meeting rooms. As a result, most participants will now remotely join meetings, meaning many more devices will now be used to facilitate the video conference. Team-working applications, content collaboration and document sharing will become more prevalent with teams no longer crowded into that same room. Contactless technology such as wireless sharing and content annotation in meetings will reduce touchpoints in meeting spaces. Essentially the new behavioral patterns we have all adopted will drive innovation in meetings.
  • Customer experience – 2020 drove everyone into their homes and into the place where consumerization rules the roost. With staff being sent home this ethos has now been brought into the corporate world more than ever. Whilst your staff suddenly had to work from home, so did your customers. Engaging with buyers now means reaching out to people at home, in whatever creative way you can. Many organizations struggled with maintaining customer service operations with everyone at home, so it became easier to shut them down and revert to email only. This is something which we will see change dramatically in 2021 as organizations enable their business with more channels of communication. Where previously it was a phone number, there will now be online chat and automation with bots, artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive innovation and efficiency. The key to differentiation in 2021 will be through the excellence of your customer service.

In terms of threats that 2021 will bring this will be largely centered around:

Cyber security customers are able to react to the levels of increased threat.

SMEs in particular could face real challenges here as they try to navigate the new corporate landscape. They must now contend with a workforce largely based from home, engaging with an increasingly distributed customer base, whilst trying to protect against a barrage of attacks focussing on remote working vulnerabilities.

Secondly, we may see business split into two broad categories - spenders and savers.

Bitten by 2020, businesses who struggled may look to reduce spending and cut costs as they fight for their existence. Others who flourished or have a more aggressive strategy may look to spend their way through the uncertainty. For technology resellers and integrators there will be a challenge around identifying which one your customer thinks they are, and which they should be.

What’s in store for the channel?

The result of all this is that the channel businesses which will prosper in 2021 are those embracing change, focused on integration and striving to deliver a greater customer experience. With the huge increase in consumption of various cloud collaboration systems, now the work begins on getting them all talking to each other. From a voice and video communications perspective this is where the channel will really make their mark. Furthermore, across all markets we will see an increase in spending on retaining customers from a marketing and operations perspective. Organizations who can focus on this and have effective processes around customer experience and customer success will see the greatest returns.

This in turn means an increased reliance on distribution, in helping their partners deliver the services and solutions needed to customers fighting for their existence. What it will also mean, is an increase in the demand for distribution services, helping partners establish managed services, service management and customer success programs to support customers in the ‘new normal’.

The pandemic has disrupted organizations in unprecedented ways, but it has also forced them to consider a different type of future. It’s become clear that businesses need a reset, not only because of the pandemic, but because the way we work has now fundamentally changed.

Richard Evans, CTO, Cinos

Richard Evans is Chief Technology Officer at Cinos.