Since the shutdown that resulted from the Covid-19 pandemic, we have experienced a rapid rate of change, and we have, in turn, rapidly adapted. In fact, we saw 15 years of behavior change in 30 days.

This remarkable ability to adapt and pivot has helped both leaders and their businesses evolve and thus survive. We know the rate of change is not going to slow. Going forward, small and midsize businesses will need to anticipate, as much as possible, the challenges that lie ahead. Our most recent report shares four critical areas of continued transformation that small and midsize business (SMB) leaders will harness for growth in 2021.   

1. Work from home is here to stay

The genie is out of the bottle on working from home. Previous questions around whether working from home can be productive, efficient, and successful have now been answered. Working from home is here to stay.

While there are tremendous benefits to having your workforce engaged at home, it can be difficult to maintain a strong culture when everyone is completely remote. Innovation and creativity tend to happen more successfully when people come together in person. Onboarding and training can also be more effective when happening face-to-face. Many CEOs will adopt a hybrid model of working, meeting employees' needs and desires to work from home while balancing the benefits of having people come together. In our October Vistage CEO Confidence Index survey, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of CEOs who implemented remote working during the pandemic have plans in place for employees to return to the workplace in some form. Of those, 29 percent said their plans included a voluntary return with the option to continue remote working. Another 29 percent indicated their plans included a phased approach to limit capacity, while 24 percent reported that specific job functions were required to return to the workplace while others remained remote. Companies will continue to test the waters and try different scenarios as they grapple with designing the right hybrid model for how to work now.

2. Physical office spaces will be reimagined

The work-from-home reality plus telebusiness have dramatically changed office workspace requirements. Our research reveals that organizations are aggressively reimaging and reconfiguring their workplace to create a sense of physical safety that workers now require. Sixty percent of SMB leaders who responded to our Q2 Vistage CEO Confidence Index survey agreed that their company had a strong or robust return to work plan, and 68 percent felt confident their employees would feel safe returning to work. CEOs are factoring in economics, employee needs and expectations, real estate, commute times, and costs to prepare their spaces -- and workers -- for return.

3. Major reductions in business travel will remain

I don't think we will see a return to pre-pandemic levels of business travel, because we've proved that it's not necessary. As business people have learned to connect and communicate digitally, they have also realized that digital communications are effective. However, some form of in-person meetings and gatherings will remain important. In fact, according to our Q3 2020 Vistage CEO Confidence Index survey, one of the biggest challenges facing business leaders now is the ability to connect to customers and prospects. Face-to-face interaction can be essential -- especially at critical times in the sales cycle or in the relationship-building process. Business leaders are reconsidering how often they schedule face-to-face meetings and when they can effectively leverage technology for customer interactions.  

4. The "digital transformation" will continue to accelerate

Technology has allowed much of our lives and many of our businesses to continue in ways that would not have been possible 15 years ago. The internet infrastructure of 2005 could not have handled the bandwidth demands of 2020. Our rapid adoption of technology will continue to energize digital transformation efforts. "Digital transformation" is no longer a buzzword. Those organizations that had already moved further down the digital transformation path were less disrupted and were more easily and quickly able to adapt. Leaders who were early adopters of technology are now doubling down on transformation efforts that will allow them to further improve productivity and performance and ensure they have the tool set for whatever lies ahead.

The road to recovery

For small and midsize businesses, the opportunities in 2021 will be realized if leaders are prepared for continued change and challenges. We are on a long, protracted road to recovery, marked by a series of plateaus. It might take years to get back to where we were before the pandemic. There are bound to be new and different daunting challenges ahead. But, over the past few months, leaders have learned to adapt, survive, and even thrive in the face of unprecedented change.