While the pandemic has presented a new set of challenges, many businesses have begun implementing innovative strategies for success in 2021. The new year represents a blank slate or fresh start for employers and employees, addressing a pent-up desire to position themselves for future success. 

According to Insight on Business, 62% industry leaders expect better overall business performance in 2021, and just 13% expect worse performance.

I spoke with executives that are looking forward to kicking off the New Year and have big plans to address the challenges they’ve faced with actionable insights on how to tackle curveball business trends.

Agile and Adaptive

In 2020, companies that were able to quickly pivot their operations experienced less of an impact than others. Agile leadership has been the key to survival and recovery for many organizations during the pandemic. It is imperative for companies to factor adaptability into their 2021 plans. Flexible goals, processes and strategies can help stabilize business if the economic crisis worsens before it improves.

“Toward the end of 2020 we expanded, cut back what wasn’t working, and we invested in good people,” said Alice Min Soo Chun, CEO of Solight. “Productivity came like wildfire, as I started a second company during the pandemic. I pivoted in March and decided to create a radical alternative to face masks.”

According to Ibbaka, there will be a focus on adaptation in 2021. The skills needed for adaptation are quite different from those needed for resilience or effectiveness. The critical skills needed for adaptation tend to be foundational (the skills used to build new skills), and design (the skills required to create new solutions).

“Part of learning to adapt is learning from failures, but also through sacrifice, grit and perseverance to test the knowledge that is embedded in your DNA. I learned to adapt through innovation and not being afraid of critics,” Chun added.

Employee Experience 

Well-being initiatives will be an essential part of an organization’s toolkit, not only for attracting and retaining talent, but also for demonstrating a commitment to employee health and safety.

Organizations that pledge to support their employees’ well-being will see a strong ROI for their investments. Physical health, mental health as well as financial, social and occupational well-being all play an integral role in the overall health of an employee. 

In a world where money is no longer the primary motivating factor for employees, focusing on the employee experience (EX) is the most promising competitive advantage that organizations can create. 

Qualtrics reported, the businesses that invest most heavily in EX are found 11.5x more often in Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work; 4.4x more often in LinkedIn’s list of North America’s Most In-Demand Employers; 2.1x more often on the Forbes list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies; and 2x more often in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

“We are now offering a Healthcare Credit to all of our U.S. employees to be used to cover any expenses for mental health, doctor visits, therapists, chiropractors, massages, spas, gym memberships and anything that improves overall health,” states Joshua Green, Co-Founder of Veriheal, a healthcare technology company and platform. “We’re trying to create the best company to work for and we’re hoping our team takes advantage of it.”

In 2021, HR and benefits experts should educate business leaders on the pressing need for meaningful mental health support as a strategic, culture-defining priority. Conversations about mental health should not be limited to HR and benefit teams or between managers and team members, discussions must also take place in the boardroom and among the C-suite.

The Year of Thought Leadership

Traditional lead generation will be tough for companies that have been hit hard by COVID-19. The pandemic has created economic and personal difficulties which are expected to continue for the foreseeable future. 

In 2021, the most successful businesses and CMOs will be those who continuously reinvent themselves to fit the societal and emotional needs of their customers. A thought leader looks for opportunities to lead discussions, provide guidance and understanding to others, and demonstrates clarity and vision in times of uncertainty.

“My hope is to be able to help thousands of women step into their power and manage their careers effectively, leading to more opportunities for those who seek them,” said Janice Lamy, author and CEO of Creating Your Success Plan (CYSP), a company designed to help women address leadership gender disparities and provide tips to navigating the workplace effectively. “CYSP is founded in resiliency, personal accountability and a positive future outlook. It’s through adversity that we grow, learn and become more powerful.”

Becoming a thought leader and creating a meaningful brand ensures customer trust and consequently repurchase. About 70% percent of meaningful brands have higher rates of repurchase intention.

For organizations to function effectively, employees and participants need to trust leadership and one another. They are more effective if they believe in the mission and the organization’s commitment to accomplishing it.

Technology Leading Advancement and New Productivity

According to a FlexJobs survey, 95% of respondents say that their productivity has been higher or the same working from home, and 51% report being more productive when working remotely. 

As we shift toward more creative and collaborative work, productivity is harder to unlock and measure. People are not necessarily more productive just because they are exchanging more emails and attending more meetings and oftentimes challenges and miscommunication arise from the lack of face-to-face interaction. 

“in lieu of our in-person board and stakeholder meetings or presentations by our consultants, which up until the pandemic was almost monthly, we’ve been able to switch these to virtual mediums such as Zoom with almost no interruption to the project schedule,” said Andrea Virgin, President of Boca Raton’s Center for Arts & Innovation

“One challenge we have faced this year, however, is in our physical engagement with current and future donors, partners, and other stakeholders that would more greatly benefit from and enjoy in-person interactions. The human connection is quite powerful and there is so much lost when speaking through a computer screen,” adds Virgin.

Many new ventures are emerging in the remote working sector. Companies such as Miro, Mural and Hoylu have provided visual collaboration platforms enabling teams to create and share content, interact, track projects, train employees and more.

Inc. mentions, these remote startup tools also help teams keep track of shared learning and documentation. Users can create a virtual office that replicates working together in person by letting colleagues communicate and collaborate with one another easily. 

“Hoylu is a newcomer and a challenger within collaboration solutions,” states Stein Revelsby, CEO of Hoylu, a workflow automation solution. “The collaborative solutions industry is a $40 billion market and includes unified communications, video conferencing, online whiteboarding, file sharing and group chat solutions. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of collaborative solutions as people have been forced to work from their homes.” 

Hoylu launched a new product in April, earlier than originally planned, due to the ongoing global COVID-19 situation. 

“My advice would be to embrace new technologies and put processes in place that will make your company more lean and flexible in the future,” stated Dalton Skach, CEO of Gold Gate, an online global real estate marketplace.

Companies still need to gauge whether new models are succeeding. Do they sustain morale, creativity and productivity? Other key ingredients that drive productivity are focus, engagement and participation in larger and more diverse networks.

Future Thoughts

“I say, go into 2021 with no expectations and to do all you can to use this downtime to think well into the future and to plan, strategize, reposition and innovate so that when we do get back to our ‘new normal’, businesses will be as well-positioned as possible to come out on top while others may have been resting on their laurels waiting out this pandemic,” said Virgin.

No matter your results in 2020, the end of a challenging year is an opportunity to pause and recognize the achievements of the past year. Now is the time to motivate your team for success in 2021.

People are more likely to engage with your output if they feel that their values, desires and emotions are being acknowledged and respected. Recognize the pain points of your audience and target these issues in your communication, this identification will create positive brand sentiment.