According to the World Economic Forum, "The number of employees permanently working remotely globally is set to double in 2021," rising from 16.4 percent to 34.4 percent. Technology has paved the way, led by the exploding popularity of Zoom, which was the most-downloaded iPhone and iPad app of 2020, beating out Instagram and YouTube. Major software providers quickly caught up, and today companies have multiple options for video chat, including Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Cisco WebEx, GoToMeeting, and Slack.

Employees are reassessing the need to return to the office. In its yearly report, Buffer surveyed over 2,300 remote workers and found 97.6 percent of respondents said "yes" to the question "Would you like to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of your career?" Flexibility is the prime driver of that response. The challenges are also clear, with 27 percent of remote workers naming "not being able to unplug" as their biggest struggle, followed by difficulties with collaboration and loneliness (each 16 percent).

Businesses recognize this new reality, but for now, it isn't crashing the U.S. real estate market. The Los Angeles Times, in a special issue on the future of work called "The C-Suite," published a survey indicating that nearly 72 percent of executive respondents said their organizations "had no plans to shrink their office footprint over the next 12 months." Part of that is tied to the reality of long-term leases and the unwillingness of landlords to renegotiate.

Barring a catastrophe that downs the electrical grid, online meetings will remain a significant part of business. Here are five trends to anticipate in 2022, and what you can do to be ready:

1. Security

Remote work intensifies the challenge of enabling IT freedoms while still ensuring security precautions. In June, Hysolate published a report on the "Enterprise Security Paradox." While almost 93 percent of employees admitted they regularly work around IT restrictions, IT professionals surveyed believed that only 23 percent are going around restrictions "most of the time." Reasons for this behavior include policies that restrict access to particular websites, as well as work with legitimate business partners that prohibits file sharing or online collaboration tools.

How do you reduce this risk, in both individual and group situations? With more meetings and events being held online, companies are increasingly investing in best-practice platforms that aim to provide the highest level of security. Consider those that have earned, or are working toward, FedRAMP, FISMA, and/or SOC 2 certifications to ensure that their video-conference capabilities strongly protect data.

Along with embracing a zero-trust security model -- "an architecture in which every device, application, and user must be individually verified and authorized based on the resource being accessed," as detailed by ComputerWorld -- companies also need to make sure every employee knows its cybersecurity rules, to educate staff on recognizing a cyberattack, to keep software updated and require passwords be regularly changed, and to take steps to protect sensitive customer and vendor information.

2. Cloud Sharing

While addressing the risks, companies are opting for easier meeting solutions. A study by the Synergy Research Group found online tools have surpassed legacy apps in market share by 64 percent to 36 percent. Cloud-based communication provides more convenience for mobile work, incorporates database functionality for uploading and accessing files, and allows real-time task updates, all while offering a centralized hub for communication between office and remote employees.

Encourage easy collaboration by choosing the best cloud-based communications software in light of what you need to share and its secure functionality across any device, whether cell phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop.

3. Hybrid Events

According to a recent Los Angeles Times survey, "an overwhelming majority of business executives say their companies currently use a hybrid mix of remote and onsite work." Psychologically, employers need to give employees equal participation in this type of format, both those personalities that prefer the engagement of the office and those who do better with the solitude of remote work.

With the video-conferencing market expected to grow to an estimated $9.7 billion in 2022, 90 percent of North American businesses are likely to spend more on a hybrid work model. To make meetings more vital, consider a trend that's steadily expanding from entertainment to business: Invest in AR technology to make meetings more engaging, or go a step beyond with VR headsets that create the believable illusion of sharing the same room.

4. Asynchronous Communication

Let's be honest: Most meetings, whether in-person or online, waste a vast amount of time. Today, employees are scattered everywhere: in the office, at home, traveling for meetings, living in far-flung places around the globe. With people working across multiple time zones especially, more employers are recognizing the benefits of asynchronous communication: work that takes place at different times (i.e., not together on one video call).

According to Buffer, nearly 70 percent of respondents said that their companies encouraged asynchronous communication to increase productivity and job satisfaction. Participants found more opportunities to engage, with greater flexibility to digest data and respond within agreed parameters. If your office schedule is burdened by group communication, try asynchronous communication to replace even one regular weekly group meeting, setting expectations for participant responses by a certain deadline, whether a day or a week.

5. Live Interpreters

The more global your company, organization, or audience, the more important it is to have meetings and events that are inclusive, those where everyone can listen and participate in their own language. Don't allow language to be a barrier. A.I. does not have the ability to understand verbal nuance nor body language like a trained interpreter.

Today, you don't need to have a multilinguist on staff or fly someone in from far-flung places. The world is filled with talented, trained interpreters, some of them experts in your industry. A multilingual platform supported by live interpreters is an affordable solution, allowing even small businesses to compete on a global stage. Some trends may come and go, but the ability to bridge the communication gap is evergreen.