Fast-forward to the future: the top 5 trends for 2021

What we’ve learned through tech from a year of turmoil — and the insights we’ll be carrying into 2021, as we hope to finally emerge from lockdown.

It was the year that no one could have predicted. 2020 will go down in history as a moment when the world was faced with a collective challenge: how do we respond — as individuals, businesses, families and organisations — to a global pandemic?

Now in January 2021, with a vaccine programme underway and some optimism building, in spite of further lockdown woes, the questions have changed. How do we move forward from the year that was never supposed to be? What have we learned, and what are the technology trends and innovations driving these changes?

Stronger relationships through innovation

It’s safe to say that the pandemic has accelerated the trend of remote working — as well as cloud adoption and migration. Emerging technologies including AR, VR, IoT, 5G and social platforms like Zoom, Whereby, Teams and Slack all had to elevate their offering or speed along solutions in response to an increased demand, as everyone worked and socialised from afar. 

While the pandemic-related stresses increased our need for support, the necessity for distance kept us apart from loved ones and our team. At J B Cole, we’ve kept up morale through online events like the more traditional quizzes to some exciting virtual experiences. In January, we challenged our team to walk 11.5km over three days using the Pactive app. 

This shared commitment to time outdoors, and being able to follow each other’s distance through the app, brought us together online in a completely new way. With team members across the UK and even Europe, it’s easy to see how this kind of tech can continue to foster closeness and connections — even when many of us have returned to the office.

What I’ve learned — above and beyond how to work effectively during this time — is the importance of using tech to create stronger relationships and connections. For me, 2020 highlighted that it’s no longer so much about the quantity of your social and professional connections but the quality of those relationships; your ability to communicate more authentically and in the case of clients, develop true partnerships that evolve over time. 

Cybersecurity & data are a priority

Our overwhelming reliance on tech in a bid to stay connected during 2020 will continue into 2021. But it’s also created new challenges around cybersecurity, as central IT systems have been dispersed among working people, creating greater responsibilities on the individual to protect themselves.

Cyberattacks were already on the increase before last year; the lockdown only heightened this risk. Companies will need to strengthen their internal processes to defend their organisation against fileless malware attacks. New technologies including endpoint detection and response (EDR) will become more prevalent as a solution, and a heightened awareness around cybersecurity tech will become the norm. 

Data has also become a heightened concern for business. With 5G expecting to rollout globally during 2021, and IoT devices becoming more mainstream, the amount of data that will be created and handled by both companies and individuals will grow rapidly. 

This has an increased relevance for the UK, with the laws relating to international data transfers from the European Union changing from the 21st of December 2020. For those UK-based organisations with cloud providers located in the EU, the ability to access or transfer personal data may be affected — it will definitely be a key consideration for companies as we move through this year. 

Headless solutions

During the pandemic eCommerce platforms became of paramount importance as many retail operatives were forced to close their doors. It was the customers that drove this demand forward. According to a global survey done by Shopify, 84% of consumers shopped online during the pandemic, with nearly 150 million people shopping online for the first time over the last 9 months.

We’ve experienced this shift in buying behaviour firsthand through our clients — many of whom we’ve partnered with to keep them ahead of the trend. Whether it’s been improving internal processes, refining the purchasing journey or adding dynamic, exciting features to a website, we’ve been there to support their digital transformation to react to new customer demands. 

But it’s more than just ‘going digital’. For companies to really stand out from the crowd, many will need to embrace headless solutions to meet new expectations around commerce. An omnichannel approach with easy-to-use UX and hyperpersonalised shopping will continue to give brands an edge over others.

Shopping local is here to stay

With many independent businesses and high street retailers needing extra support to stay afloat, consumers this year chose to buy local in a bid to help their favourite brands. Research conducted in November revealed that more than three-fifths of UK shoppers were supporting local businesses more than they used to; a trend that will also likely continue.

Some of this investment is towards the many new small businesses that launched during lockdown. In the face of the financial uncertainty, many individuals took the opportunity for change to create their own business; in fact, almost 50% more new businesses were created in June 2020 than the year before. 

Large corporations including Facebook and Shopify have begun to invest in local initiatives and brands, which reflects the significance of this trend. I’ve personally committed to supporting more local brands and independent businesses in the North West where I live (as do half of the team)  — and of course, I’m looking forward to all the fantastic bars and restaurants in Manchester opening their doors once again. 

2020 Vision & bringing the positives forward

For us at J B Cole, 2020 was less about adaptation and more focused on innovation; creating new solutions for both our own company and supporting those across our network. I’ve spoken to so many professionals throughout our industry over the past few months alone that share our sense of optimism. 

This new year marks a real shift in thinking based on what we’ve learned from the last one — and alongside it, new opportunities for strengthening relationships as well as professional and personal growth.

J B Cole UK has been recognised as one of the Top 30 United Kingdom Digital Agencies by DesignRush