Business Essentials

10 ways the world might change in 2021 - Brought to you by NatWest

10 ways the world might change in 2021 - Brought to you by NatWest

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

How will we come to terms with uncertainty, and what does that mean for long-term planning? We take a look at the key themes that might impact your business this year.


Safety, flexibility, human connection, mobility, and purpose are just some of the key values that will dictate our choices this year as the world hopefully begins to recover. We speak to business insiders to find out in what ways life and business will change for good.


1. The hybrid office is here to stay

Richard Godfrey, CEO and co-founder of Rocketmakers, tech specialists for start-ups, scale-ups and corporate innovators


“We’re thinking more and more about hybrid working and how we prepare for having some people in the office whilst others are at home. We’re seeing great people collaboration tools here like (a fantastic tool to create that ‘just popping over to someone’s desk’ experience). Creative collaboration tools such as Miro are hugely valuable, enabling us to express ourselves creatively and collaboratively as we all work together on the same virtual whiteboard. And social collaboration tools like Discord are a lifeline for our team. We socialise and play computer games together – we call it ‘Slack for games’.”


2. Employee retention will come from offering choice

Matt Barnaby, founder, ImpactBasis


“For many, ‘remote-first’ will be an opportunity, for some a necessity. Recession will force organisations to rethink their physical assets and overheads. This will lead to repurposing buildings or offloading them, clawing back money; an output of this will be a more remote workforce. Culturally, organisations will have to dramatically shift management styles and working cultures to be able to support people’s mental health. This will need to be meaningful and deep throughout; expect lots of organisations to be implementing ‘ways of working’ initiatives.”


3. The vaccine won’t solve climate change or cyber risks

Elodie Huet, cyber security governance risk and compliance analyst, Arup


“This year has sown the seed for something that’s very much needed – more conscientious travelling, less travelling overall and less consumption. Yes, consumption is how we make money, but we need to change how we consume. In a decade’s time, climate change will have shaped how we work. Look at the recent heatwaves in Europe. There was so much disruption because the infrastructures aren’t built for that kind of environment. Meanwhile, the threat of cyber attacks will affect your supply chain, your customers, how you pay, your credit card details. Much of the challenge for cyber-attack management is a communication problem. Every time we see a cyber attack, many companies think – I’m a small business, I don’t need to prepare for that. There’s a huge awareness-raising needed, and now is the time for it.”


“Resilient, successful entrepreneurs who know their passion will be patient, hardworking and flexible. Prioritising social capital and solid business foundations over quick profits and personal gain will almost certainly be the winning formula”Peter Harrington, director, Venture Simulations



4. Social capital will win out over profit

Peter Harrington, director, Venture Simulations and host of the Startup Survival Podcast


“Effective rebuilding will start and continue within communities. We will all be thanking the exceptional and inspirational for starting innovative and vibrant social enterprises that galvanise and offer hope for a more prosperous future. Whilst the vaccine means a light might be appearing at the end of the tunnel, the darkness of a full-blown recession may just be looming. Resilient, successful entrepreneurs who know their passion will be patient, hardworking and flexible. Prioritising social capital and solid business foundations over quick profits and personal gain will almost certainly be the winning formula.”


5. The focus will be on the journey

Cath Bishop, author of The Long Win, former diplomat and Triple Olympian


“Success in 2021 can no longer be about the usual metrics. The continuing extreme uncertainty and challenges offer a huge opportunity to create broader success criteria that focus on the journey, rather than the outcome. No one knows what the profit margins and account sheet will say at the end of 2021, and it’s unlikely to be record-breaking. Customer experience and employee experience will help us to optimise traditional metrics. Connecting at a deeper, rather than transactional, level in our professional relationships will help build more resilient relationships.”


6. VR and AR may go mainstream

Richard Godfrey, CEO and co-founder of Rocketmakers


“We’re doing loads with virtual and augmented reality and even building our own tools to help people manage AR and VR content easily (we call it ‘Beam’ as you can beam content into experiences dynamically). We’re investing heavily in this space as we feel the technology is getting to the point where some awesome opportunities for immersive training, virtual events, digital twins, virtual travel and much more are just around the corner.”


7. Health and ageing will influence product development

Heather Davison, visiting professor, University of East London


“We’re going to see adaptations of products and services that cleverly integrate health-promoting features into their offer. Not from a nanny state perspective, but more from a collaborative approach to health and well-being that triggers new behaviours at a personal and societal level. There’s an urgent need to turn up the innovation dial as we come out of Covid. Many companies don’t fully understand what’s core to their DNA and it’s this aspect that needs the greatest attention; there’s a lag behind changes in customer values and behaviours and this means the products and services on offer (even with a new wrapping) become obsolete. There’ll also be a lot of discussion about the changing face of ageing, and the opportunities for business to get to grips with the demands from the older generation and reality of a much longer lifespan.”


8. Business leaders still need to learn to trust employees

Matt Barnaby, founder, ImpactBasis


“When working remotely, being kept busy can be used to evidence an employee’s presence. As organisations realise that it’s not the time people clock but the value they bring, there will be a move away from things like KPIs [key performance indicators] towards OKRs [objectives and key results]. The journey towards outcomes over outputs will be a bit treacherous at first, with organisations seeking to track time and output through various software – this will prove harmful and they will learn the hard way that trust is key.”


9. We can’t control ‘success’ – but we can control improvement

Cath Bishop, author of The Long Win, former diplomat and Triple Olympian

“There are no quick fixes, no easy solutions or magic bullets to find. So we need to let go of those – at the point that we accept uncertainty, we can start to really learn and explore and invest in the journey of discovery. That’s always been key to business success and an area where we were underperforming previously. No Olympic athlete gets better by doing the same things as each Olympiad – they become world-class at improving, in order to have the best shot of becoming world-class at winning. The latter isn’t within their control, but the former is. We need business leaders and employees to have the curiosity of the world’s first explorers, recognising and rewarding improvement as much as any short-term and potentially short-lived outcomes.”


10. There will be new ways of funding new projects and businesses

Peter Harrington, director, Venture Simulations

“Given the expected rise in unemployment rates, the government will look to support and encourage all types of start-up, to seed our brave new economy. Local enterprise partnerships, universities and schools will be encouraged to access fresh funding to develop and roll out training and support initiatives to aid new venture creation. Covid has changed our world and so it’s appropriate and timely to think and work anew.”


Our Partners:

Sponsored by Specsavers Sponsored by NatWest