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5 Digital Trends That Are Here to Stay. Time to Embrace Them. The speed at which the workforce has evolved is unprecedented---and that's a good thing.

By Priya Merchant Edited by Bill Schulz

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Buying behaviors developed during the time of COVID-19, including wide-scale digital usage, have emerged rapidly and will thrive long past the post-pandemic horizon.

To stay competitive organizations must respond to these behavioral changes and take immediate action. These trends are especially relevant as we move forward in 2021.

Related: So, the Pandemic Sent Your Digital Transformation into Hyperdrive. What Now?

1. Accelerated digital transformation

Businesses, of course, already viewed digital transformation as critical well before the pandemic. But for the first time, we've witnessed a vast majority of interactions involving customers and employees taking place virtually. As consumers change how they move more of their activities online, businesses have increasingly accelerated their digital transformation plans.

According to a study by the U.K. cloud communications platform Twilio, the pandemic has sped up digital transformation by 5.3 years. As leaders try to complete, maintain and build on this accelerated evolution, it is estimated that worldwide digital transformation spending will nearly double between 2020 and 2023.

2. Permanent adoption of the at-home occupation

Prior to the pandemic the idea of working-from-anywhere was increasingly popular thanks to the gig economy. Once the virus was widespread, businesses that had not thought this model would work on a large scale were forced to rethink and go remote. They learned that they could trust employees to perform a high percentage of tasks with little or no decrease in productivity/quality no matter where the cogs did their jobs.

Although some companies plan to bring workers back, at least partially, others are leaning into remote setups and have no plans on returning to physical offices.

Consider the following data:

  • According to a Gartner survey, 82% of leaders plan to let employees work remotely once the pandemic is over, while almost half (47%) say they'll let employees work remotely full time.

  • Data from Upwork's second 2020 Future Workforce Pulse Report indicates that 22% of the workforce will be working from home by 2025, a staggering 87% increase compared to pre-COVID times.

  • According to a PwC survey, 78% of 669 CEOS agree that remote collaboration is here to stay.

  • A survey of 2,000 general population Americans, commissioned by Wise­­­­tail, found that over a third of those polled, and working remotely, would quit if ordered to come back. Another 39% would prefer a pay cut rather than returning to their cubicles.

As companies reevaluate where their teams work, there is a big question about office space demand and some businesses are looking for more flexible workspaces to save money. Others are maintaining their offices but expanding the amount of space allowed to improve hygiene.

3. Greater investment in cloud technologies

COVID-19 forced leaders to reexamine their strategic initiatives as well as their broader degree of agility. Companies also became more dependent on cloud technologies, which workers needed to continue working in remote environments. Forrester predicts that the global public cloud infrastructure market will grow 35 percent to $120 billion in 2021.

4. Accelerated growth of virtual servicing

Businesses have rapidly adopted touch-free technologies and developed new virtual service options. Many buyers who have used curbside pickup at the onset of the pandemic plan to continue using it going forward. Invesp reports, 67% of shoppers in the US have used Buy Online Pick Up In-Store (BOPIS) in the past six months, and businesses will fulfill 10 percent of all sales with Click and Collect by 2025.

According to a recent MasterCard poll, about 4 out of 5 consumers are using some form of contactless payment because of the virus, with said transactions jumping 40 percent in Q1 around the world.

As these options become de rigueur for retailers, restaurants and grocery stores---consumers will keep expecting these new, cleaner conveniences to avoid issues like in-store congestion.
Related: Digitization In the Post-Pandemic World: A Unique Combination Of Factors Is Helping the Indian MSME Sector Become 'Atmanirbhar'

5. Future-proofing with data/analytics and AI

In the age of Big Data, executives and managers have not shied away from using data, analytics and artificial intelligence for numerous urgent tasks (e.g., employee/customer engagement, forecasting demand). But the pandemic laid bare the degree to which they were still making many decisions in the dark. They realized that they must let insights drive them even more.

Gartner asserted in a Top 10 Trends report that "data and analytics, combined with artificial intelligence technologies, will be paramount in the effort to predict, prepare and respond in a proactive and accelerated manner to a global crisis and its aftermath."

The value proposition for analytics has gone up. With the world on a path to recovery, the time is right to reflect on current challenges and craft a strategy that makes data an organizational asset.

Enduring new trends for a bright future

The old way of doing business is gone forever. Rather than seeing this negatively, companies should view these new ways of operating with excitement. Embracing the trends can mean better quality, efficiency, safety and convenience for everyone.

Related: Pivoting During the Pandemic: How These Businesses Succeeded

Priya Merchant

Digital Transformation Leader at Genpact

Priya Merchant is a digital transformation and innovation expert with nearly two decades of experience in financial services and insurance with top global organizations across the U.S., U.K., Canada, India and Latam.

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