Last year, 2020 was heralded as the exciting start of the century's third decade. Today, its conclusion can't come fast enough for most entrepreneurs. Yet the recent sweeping societal and corporate changes likely won't subside when the calendar hits 2021. In fact, they've altered life for the foreseeable future, and that's not all bad for businesses.
Case in point: Teleconferencing--predicted long ago by Bill Gates--has risen as an acceptable alternative to professional meetings and casual hangouts. As a result, Zoom's busting at the seams and adding new perks and amenities. And who could deny that many employees and companies are now seeing remote work with fresh eyes?
Gartner research from July showed 82 percent of executives surveyed expected to allow telecommuting in some fashion post-pandemic. Even Google has backed off from an in-person headquarters mentality, allowing some team members to work from home until at least mid-2021.
Virtual working and coronavirus-linked workforce transformations have ushered in some massive tech innovations and opportunities. Consequently, corporate leaders should keep an eye on the following trends aimed at swiftly adapting to tomorrow's norms.
1. Remote workers requiring savvier back-end support and training
When Covid struck and workers decentralized en masse, work-home boundaries blurred. This phenomenon of "work is everywhere and nowhere" will continue as people lean toward more hybrid, fluid methods of balancing the professional and the personal.
A boundary-less business world isn't necessarily conducive to buoyed worker confidence, however, especially when workers must rapidly make pivotal decisions without immediate managerial support. Employees therefore need to undergo regular training on platforms and tech they regularly use.
IT staff will especially require heavy doses of regular education to meet heightened job demands. Yet Inc. 5000's IBEX IT Business Experts CEO and president Tracey Grace believes ongoing tech knowledge shouldn't be limited to information systems or IT personnel. Instead, all corporate system end users should be taught to recognize and mitigate security breaches so that everyone's empowered to make wise choices.
2. Next-gen levels of automation
Automation has gone into hyperdrive with employees clamoring for better, faster ways to make their lives easier by mechanizing everyday processes in order to concentrate on more complex to-do items. As Placester COO and co-founder Fred Townes noted, any repetitive task can be the catalyst for an automated solution.
This doesn't mean there isn't a downside to automation, particularly when it comes to customer experience. Too much automation can lead to a drop in personalization, which sometimes leaves prospects and clients with an unsettled feeling.
To combat the need for hyper-automation without losing the human touch, automated functions may benefit from occasional babysitting. Rather than truly being set-it-and-forget-it processes, they should be checked and tweaked. For example, an automated flurry of prospective buyer touch points could be regularly dusted off and retested with target personas. Just a bit of maintenance can ensure automation does what's intended.
3. Predictive emotional A.I.
Imagine a machine that could gauge a user's emotions to determine which message to show next. This type of predictive A.I., known as artificial emotional intelligence, is coming down the pike faster all the time. In fact, it's been in the testing phases for years.
As A.I. becomes more adept at reading a prospective shopper's emotions, A.I. programming can assist in influencing behaviors. And the A.I. doesn't have to rely only on visual cues, either. Already, A.I. chatbots are learning to recognize when buyers are frustrated or may want to opt out by the words and punctuation they choose.
The biggest challenge with predictive artificial emotional intelligence lies in successfully interpreting signals. It's a fact of life that different people from different cultures will have different responses to the same stimuli, even if they share an overarching emotion. Therefore, until A.I. can prove itself to be airtight, marketers will still want to regulate and oversee this emergent technology.
Nevertheless, the idea of using A.I. to analyze everything from a raised eyebrow to a slight frown could give companies an edge. A.I. facial recognition equipment might one day be useful in retail situations to help reduce buyer hesitance and improve conversions.
4. Touchless everything
A final tech trend that's taken off during the pandemic has been a move toward touchless-ness. Restaurants are touting curbside, contactless pickup. Retailers are offering touchless payment options. And more touch-free transactions are sure to come.
However, not all organizations offer products or services that are conducive to being without touch. Being able to feel a pricey cashmere sweater can make the difference for a sale.
Before companies embrace a fully contactless society, they may need to consider other safe alternatives in order to give buyers and browsers a choice. Already, this is happening with self-checkouts and touchless ordering screen interfaces to some extent.
The coronavirus may have stunted economic growth, but it didn't stunt tech innovation. As companies slide into 2021, corporate leaders will be faced with a bevy of technological choices to remain competitive, enhance growth, and win back sales.