by Thomas Frey
When we think about the years ahead, there’s the future and then there’s the future future. Let’s talk about the immediate future first.
Recalibration is the Word
2021 will be a year of recalibration. As we’re gradually able to put the worst elements of 2020 behind us, it’s going to become clearer to all of us how far we’ve strayed from our habits, dependencies, and routines of the past, and not just in our daily tasks but in our entire way of thinking.
In just one year, our idea of “normal” has been run through a wood chipper and is unrecognizable in so many areas: our health, our government, our professional lives, our activities, our families, and our priorities.
As we move past the 2020 crisis mentality, 2021 will be a year of adjusting the dials, flipping the switches, and recalibrating our lives. But it’s not something we can simply press a button and regain our sense of normalcy. The first order of business will be to break our reactive habits that have built up over the past 10 months.
Covid is forcing us to change; so drifting back into our previous, comfortable state of normal will not be possible. We’ll often refer back to the “good old days” of 2019, 2015, or whatever year in the past we felt was most ideal, but that past was never as good as we recall, and we also have the opportunity to redirect ourselves, along with the rest of humanity, towards a far better future.
Choosing a Future Direction
In many areas, though, 2021 will be an opportunity to “futurize” our way towards new and improved ways of doing business, because we are wiser and better for having endured the shared crises of this past year. COVID and other events made 2020 a clear demarcation point. We were laid bare and personally vulnerable. In that state, it somehow feels okay to question our assumptions, experiment, try new things, and raise the bar on everything we think is ordinary.
The Future Future
Even our definition of the “future” will change in 2021. As our year progressed, fewer and fewer people were able to look past the immediate post-COVID future. “I can’t wait till we’re back to normal,” was a phrase I heard again and again. But as time in 2021 marches on, even those of us working as professional futurists will be working to recalibrate our collective perspectives on longer-term thinking. The rate of change, the speed with which we measure the number of moving parts currently in motion, has shifted into another gear. In these situations, changes that were already underway have been turbocharged due to 2020 events. In other cases, entirely new forms of change had their genesis in the chaos of 2020. Let’s look at some examples.
Recalibrations set to accelerate in 2021
One of the most obvious recalibrations to date has been the office workplace. Work-from-home was not unheard of before 2020, but it was a relatively big deal for a company to give certain teams the opportunity to work from home 1-2 days a week. Now companies like MasterCard, Intuit, Shopify, Siemens, and others seem committed to a predominantly work-from-home arrangement for a majority of their people. This recalibration will continue long into the future.
Along with this, our priorities change. Stemming from the work-from-home transition, we’re seeing a shift in personal priorities. Lives won’t be organized around work – it will be quite the opposite with work taking a second seat to personal commitments and pleasure. As this happens, people begin to realize they are more than just the sum total of their job, position, and title. Over time, this will lead to a deeper sense of purpose in other areas.
From a management standpoint, companies are now focused on outcomes. By focusing on outcomes, employers help people make time count, instead of simply counting time. That type of trust and empowerment actually makes staffers far more productive.
Also on the workplace front, we’ll see less corporate travel. We’ve learned we can be efficient and effective with virtual meetings. Even if employees go back to the office, they’ll continue to connect with out-of-town clients and customers virtually rather than face-to-face.
However, conferences and off-site retreats, for the most part, will resume and take place in person because none of us ever got used to day-long virtual sessions or online happy hours this year. The overall decline in business travel will be a long-term recalibration, much to the chagrin of the airline and hospitality industries.
Last, consider the recent, rapid decline of the oil and gas industry due to dramatic worldwide declines in demand. Yes, we were already moving steadily toward battery-powered cars and alternative energy sources, but this trend has significantly accelerated due to the cascading events of 2020. As a result, the worldwide economic collapse triggered global oil and gas industry retrenchments. As an industry, it clearly sees the handwriting on the wall with the end date of its energy reign looming in the distance. This recalibration will continue over the coming years.
Finally, we’ll put a greater emphasis on health and wellness, both from a personal and employer perspective. Flu and cold season will now be flu, cold, and COVID season as new variants of these viruses appear and reappear every year. Masks will become a fashion industry standard, and far more common during the Fall and Winter months. Family leave policies will be more liberal and generous, especially if companies want to keep mothers in their workforce. This will be a long-term recalibration.
Let’s Get on With It
So yes, let’s all get on with life as soon as we can in 2021, not fixated on going back to the way we were, but looking to the future with a clean slate and a desire to be and do things better. And those of us working as futurists can once again refocus on the future future and emerging technology trends like AI, robots, and flying drones!
Here’s to a successful and healthy year ahead!