If there's one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it's that we shouldn't try to predict the future. After all, who could have foreseen a pandemic that is still wreaking havoc across the globe nearly two years later?
For a large number of businesses, 2021 was unquestionably a year of transformation. They were forced to change their business models - for both consumers and employees -- and to accelerate the adoption of new digital processes. Consumer behavior shifted, budgets were cut, and businesses were pushed to innovate or risk losing market share to competitors.
And, while continual lockdowns have had a detrimental effect on some companies, others have prospered and innovated, seizing new opportunities. Because when faced with adversity, humanity frequently triumphs. The world will continue to change. And, together, we can use what we've learned to better meet and service shifting consumer and social trends.
In this piece, we talk to experts from several fields about the trends they think will shape the coming year:
1. Wellbeing at work
The past few years have seen many more women reaching the leadership positions they’ve long been qualified for.
For Aisha Pandor, CEO and Co-founder at SweepSouth, this is a positive trend that will just grow stronger in 2022. “The trend of women in leadership should be supported in its upward ascent, but one of the challenges that working women have long faced is that we focus so myopically on our careers and reaching career goals that our overall happiness and wellbeing can take a back seat,“ says Pandor. She continues, “for years we’ve held onto this notion of being superwomen, of being able to balance it all and neatly divide our lives and personalities between home and work, ping-ponging between the two and ignoring one to the benefit of the other.”
The pandemic has taught us to take stock of what matters in life. A moment has arrived where women are realising that it’s good for mental wellbeing to show up holistically at work, not only as career women, but also as moms and partners who are multi-faceted and balancing multiple responsibilities, skill-sets, and interests.
“We are integrated people, and it’s an unrealistic expectation that we shouldn’t reveal our full selves in the workplace, or subscribe to the belief that it’s a no-no to address the fact that you need to make time in your day and your week for your family or yourself,” says Pandor.
2. The future of work is hybrid
The COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst that allowed us to rethink how we work. Remote work and flexibility, now the mainstay of thousands of employees around the world, was all but unthinkable as recently as the beginning of 2020. Today, employees are demanding the best of both, the flexibility of working from home and the option to work from an office as and when needed.
“The year 2022 is set to be the year that business leaders get serious about a hybrid working model if they want to retain top talent,” says David Seinker, Founder, and CEO of The Business Exchange. “This model is ideally positioned for a combination of remote work and in-office work and takes the needs of both the employer and employee into consideration by responding with a solution that is cost-effective for the former and appealing to the latter.”
Within the hybrid model, the serviced office space has become a popular solution. There’s a growing demand for serviced office space across the country. “In our own business, we’ve seen significant interest from both SMEs and corporates looking for a more flexible office solution,” Seinker says.
According to Seinker, the hybrid working model will likely see even greater growth in 2022, especially among corporates who hadn’t considered it before, signaling a substantial shift in how we've always assumed work should be done.
3. Adapt and be prepared to pivot
Predictions of any kind are best avoided, and this is especially true in a business as dynamic and fast-paced as marketing and advertising. Having said that, clear trends have emerged that are only likely to gain further traction in 2022.
“In-housing -- the move towards decentralised production and the in-sourcing of digital and creative work from agencies to an internal capability -- is set to grow, as more brands opt to take these functions in-house, both to save costs and to accelerate digital transformation,” says Reagen Kok, CEO at Hoorah Digital.
The application of data to inform creative work will remain a priority in 2022, though the challenge will be to ensure it’s done responsibly and in a way that adds true customer value. “But rather than fixate on trends for 2022, our focus will be on ensuring we are a consultancy with an ear to the ground, with the culture that allows us to pivot, to adapt, and to respond to a world where change is the only constant,” says Kok.
4. Collaborative digital ecosystems
One trend that will continue to grow in 2022 is for businesses to reconsider their operating models and migrate to a collaborative digital ecosystem that enables all employees to connect to and service client requests.
“Businesses have recognised the importance of accelerating digital transformation inside the workplace to better meet requirements of employees by enabling them to work in a hybrid model of remote and in-office work locations,” says Greg Gatherer, Liferay Africa's Account Manager.
In addition, in 2022, there will be a greater focus on organisational efficiency. Businesses will be much more productive if they use technology to automate, use digital workflows, and eliminate manual processes.
“Using digital experience platforms to allow customers to serve themselves without the need to interact with staff, and driving customer interaction and engagement within the digital world will be a key driver in 2022,” says Gatherer.
5. Local will always be lekker
Post COVID-19, recovery will continue to be fuelled by domestic tourism and local business travellers.
Tim Cordon, Area Senior Vice President, Middle East & Africa for the Radisson Group believes that based on previous crises, leisure travel will recover more quickly -- especially travel that involves visiting friends and relatives in combination with business trips. In response to families and solo travellers seeking incentives like discounts on guest rooms, free upgrades, added value, and booking flexibility that allows for free cancellation, hotels are paying special attention to what they offer.
“This is why Radisson launched Hybrid Solutions for business travellers, which includes Hybrid Rooms and Hybrid Meetings,” says Cordon. “While these solutions are aimed at businesses, they can also be utilised by locals for smaller events or, in the case of Hybrid Rooms, as a productive and quiet workspace away from home.”
Even as more individuals are vaccinated and markets begin to reopen, countries have the option of closing their borders if new variations or increases in COVID-19 arise. The Sub-Saharan African region has remained resilient over the last two years, and Cordon expects that this will continue, with local and regional travelers electing to go closer to home, where changes in travel plans may have less of an impact.
6. A greener 2022
Over the next few years, millennials and new technologies will be driving forces in the wider adoption of sustainable buildings, but green homes and office spaces are more than just another construction trend. As we emerge from the pandemic, and with the urgency of climate change upon us, we all realise the pressing need to reimagine the way we live.
The demand for greener building practises is gaining traction globally and here in South Africa, too, and will be an interesting trend to watch. “Green homes and buildings are built to reduce environmental impact, using eco-friendly materials and processes, and appeal to environmentally-conscious buyers and tenants who want to minimise their environmental footprint,” says Carl Coetzee, CEO at BetterBond.
There are a wide range of green features that buyers feel are desirable, but energy efficiency and renewable energy top the list. “With energy costs soaring in South Africa, features that focus on reducing energy -- like solar panels, windows with double-glazing, energy-efficient lighting, and proper ceiling insulation -- are sought after. Eco-aware buyers also look for rainwater harvesting, greywater solutions, and paints, carpeting. and finishes that don’t exude toxic chemicals,” says Coetzee.
For office workers returning to corporate spaces post- the pandemic and who are now accustomed to being surrounded by their houseplants and taking afternoon walks, there will be a heightened desire to avoid spending hours in spaces with poor ventilation, no natural light, and that have dust or contaminants in the air. Greener workspaces will no doubt have a positive impact on workers’ wellbeing and productivity.
Eco-friendly development applies to both residential and commercial buildings, with a growing cohort of architects and developers embracing sustainable practices. Green buildings -- new and renovated -- command an increase in asset value, and while it may cost more initially to build, developers can expect to recoup the costs through increased demand for their units, and property owners will save money in reduced energy and utility costs.
The path ahead
South Africa has experienced a tumultuous year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, political tensions, as well as a vaccine rollout that took a while to hit the ground running.
Over the next year, we need to be careful how we measure our economic recovery. We need to separate the economic indicators which are influenced by the rich getting richer, and use indicators that translate into the increased quality of life of our most vulnerable citizens.
This approach should enable us to not only rebuild the economy as it was, but also to establish a more inclusive future. “This will not be an easy path to follow, but the last year has prompted many of us to reflect on what truly matters in life and how precious time is. We cannot rely on others to make a change, when we are unwilling to do so ourselves,” Pandor explains.
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