Five (cautious!) predictions for 2021

Joe Griffin
Joe Griffin

It’s fair to say that last year was filled with unpredictable events (unless of course you are Bill Gates, who predicted the pandemic). So while we won't be so bold as to make sweeping economic predictions (and we've read a few predicting both boom and depression) we can say that this past year has taught us the value of being prepared, being agile, maintaining an open mind and running a cost effective business.

So here are some predictions based on market trends, our own experience and advances in technology and user experience.


1.      Office presenteeism will reduce, but not die out

Recent articles in Financial Times reported that law firms are reducing their office space in London by up to 50%. And many firms from other industries are reducing their office presence even further: Facebook and Google have both made big moves towards remote work.

2020 was a mass experiment in remote working, letting the genie out of the bottle, we’re now seeing the medium to long term effects of 100% remote working.

What we're finding is that productivity is not suffering. Indeed, one survey found that 77% of workers were more productive at home. But people miss social interaction and meetings, and the benefits of brainstorms. Younger workers in particular miss the benefits of seeing more experienced colleagues in action, meeting clients, giving presentations or receiving in person advice. There's also the absence of ambient information as colleagues overhear what's important and what's being discussed in a business.

That said, it's hard to go back to full time 40 hours a week commuting five times a week. Survey after survey has found that employees want a hybrid of remote working and in office working, and businesses are escaping their expensive office leases. So expect this trend to continue. What shape cities will take over the next couple of years remains to be seen.


2.      CX will grow even more in importance

The importance of customer experience is growing across the board, in both B2C and B2B.

It's gotten to the stage that online reviews have reached a saturation point, to the extent that every product and service is being evaluated online almost instantaneously, and if they're not something looks suspicious. Effective CX is a way for companies and brands to distinguish themselves in a crowded market. Customers are getting used to best in class services and especially customer service and attention.

In some cases, customer and user experience is even more important than price: A survey by Forbes found that 96% of customers are willing to change providers if CX is not up to scratch. That same survey found that 67% of customers are willing to pay more for convenience.


3.  Continued acceleration of automation

Like remote working, automation kicked into overdrive last year. 2020 brought that change and 2021 will see that continue with initiatives like MTD (Making Tax Digital) in the UK and similar projects across the world. Mexico, China and Brazil have their own equivalents of MTD in action. Automation is not just cost effective and more precise, it also facilitates remote working.

For example AutoEntry which digitizes receipts, invoices and bank statements and automates data entry is a perfect tool for remote working. Indeed some of our customers said that by using AutoEntry prior to 2020, they were preparing for COVID-19 without even knowing it.

So, companies that had been hesitant to embrace automation are now exploring these opportunities like never before. And accountants and bookkeepers are moving more and more of their clients into the digital sphere.


4.       Changes and innovation will be in software, not hardware

Arguably the biggest tech story in the past year has been the rise of the remote meeting and specifically Zoom (along with other video apps like Webex and Google Meet). It's gotten to the stage where casual migrant workers are using apps for transferring payments back home, people running stalls in farmers markets are accepting app only payments, and apps, not hardware, are making headlines. More and more, the software we use with existing technology is a bigger story than the hardware itself.  

This makes sense: Moore’s Law (the principle of computers doubling processing speed every two years) can only go so far. And this 55 year old theory might not be valid in 2021. So the focus is now on innovating and improving our lives with the existing power of those little supercomputers in our pockets.

5.       Emphasis on work/life balance and workers’ rights

The recalibrated emphasis on work life balance was prominent in 2020. But the biggest story for workers and their employers might be the resurgence of unions. Recent weeks have seen unions forming in major white collar companies like Google. Combined with the newfound emphasis on remote working, expect work/life balance to an even bigger issue in 2021.

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