Looking Ahead to 2021: The Future of Remote Work, Startup Opportunities, and More

Just about everyone is ready to say goodbye to 2020. Coming out of a year that no one could have predicted, we asked Elsewhere operating advisors, portfolio company executives and internal team members to go back to the drawing board and think about what 2021 could have in store.

Things will never be quite the same as before, but that could be a good thing. Read on for what could come in 2021 across a few key categories.

Remote work

Supporting hybrid models with better tech

“If given the option, many employees will want to make their remote work permanent or have the flexibility to work from a remote location or the office. As more people go into the office in 2021, the behaviors and expectations of having remote access to conversations and meetings will come under strain. When three out of the five people in a meeting are available in-person, will they remember to turn on video conferencing and digital whiteboards?

Companies will need to lay down new meeting etiquette rules and invest in improving meeting room technology. Companies do not need to spend a quarter of a million dollars on a Cisco TelePresence system, but using a laptop as your primary audio/video device will probably not cut it. In 2021, we can expect to see more always-on conference rooms that have 24/7 live feeds. Digital whiteboards and improved screen-sharing capabilities will be standard.”

-Pradeep Ittycheria, CTO of Kasasa

The roles that function best in-office

“Inside sales organizations fare much better in close proximity to one another. All of the inside sales organizations that I have built and been a part of thrive in close quarters. The vast majority of the sales reps’ knowledge and product education comes from overhearing other sales calls, conversations, and customer interactions from their peers on the sales floor.

Sales floors are literally designed for this very reason. It's not learning by osmosis, but pretty damn close. For that reason, I sure hope inside sales makes the move back ‘inside’ sooner rather than later.”

-Chad Savoy, Chief Revenue Officer of Airbrake

Workplace analytics are here to stay

"The future of work arrived in 2020 faster than anyone could have predicted. As teams have adapted to new ways of working, businesses have adjusted to support them—deploying new tools, developing new processes and establishing new, more flexible performance indicators. In 2021, these adjustments will become a more permanent part of the way businesses operate, redefining and improving employee-employer relationships around engagement and enablement for productive outcomes. This will create growth opportunities for technologies that accelerate digital transformation and the use of analytics for new insights that power business innovation and resilience."

-Rita Selvaggi, CEO of ActivTrak

Navigating Zoom fatigue

“Business will feel the strain of people, teams and the entire enterprise not being connected on a direct personal basis. With onboarding, training and enablement, the benefits of 'face-to-face' will become areas of heightened leadership focus. Everyone will be working to find the right balance between Zoom and face-to-face interaction.”

-Cam McMartin, SailPoint Technologies Board Member

Industry transformation

The reshaping of healthcare continues

“In 2021, we will see hybrid care—in other words, a mix of in-office and telehealth—implemented by various practices for the long term. We also expect to see the digital transformation so prevalent in other verticals be more broadly embraced in healthcare. This will include patient self-scheduling, contactless check-in, and patient chat.”

-Michele Perry, CEO of Relatient

A new opening for cloud startups

“Expect more vertical integration from the Big Three cloud providers. AWS Graviton and MS Catapult are just the start. At the same time they’re building their own silicon, they’re also continuing to expand their service portfolios (AWS now has 175!) Many are trying to become the jacks of all trades, master of none (except the infrastructure of course). This will lead to modularization and best-of-breed being the new themes of the cloud and offer fertile territory for startups that can peel off customers from AWS, Azure, and Google. They’ll succeed at this by offering better managed services, with better support, and maybe even better prices—all still running on the same underlying infrastructure.”

-David Wartell, CTO of IDT Corp

“Two large technology companies will either be acquired or close down, causing surprise throughout the industry, but will create innovation in their absence.”

-Eric Anderson, CTO of Airbrake

Going beyond the “COVID connection revolution”

“Digital marketing becomes an even bigger part of the permanent mix. Event marketing will reappear, but only in a token way. So tools and systems will be ever more critical for the enterprise to deploy and optimize. In fact, digitization priority will remain high in all businesses – driving revenue, productivity and a connected enterprise. Companies that can drive this revolution will continue to benefit. But those that simply enabled the COVID connection revolution will see business slow.”

-Cam McMartin, SailPoint Technologies Board Member

Strategy & Operations

Pivoting is out; micro-strategies are in

“Micro-strategies will become a thing. COVID has amplified the need to be able to adjust and change your business strategies very quickly. Pivoting is what a basketball player does when they have the ball, but a pivot does little to improve the play that was run and ultimately the outcome. A good pivot move allows the player to change their view of the court, but fundamentally they're in the same spot on the floor and the defense (i.e., the competition) has converged on them. This is why 'pivoting' will go out of vogue.

In order to truly react quickly, companies will need to be able to run micro-strategies—small moves that the company can execute quickly—allowing them to yield results faster. Small, quick, iterative moves, executed successfully, that yield positive results will create momentum and lead to growth faster than big strategies that take months to plan and execute. Micro-strategies will result in bigger, more impactful results.”

-Andrew Kahl, COO of CM Group

From surviving to thriving

“2020 has been all about survival, in so many ways. Personally, we at Airbrake focused on physical and emotional health, family, and friends, but we also spent a significant amount of effort on helping our businesses survive. Whether you are a CEO, volunteer, new hire, small business owner, investor, or have any role or involvement in a business, you felt the pressure and the stress of helping it survive the unknown. 2021 will be different, very different. We will be shifting our efforts towards thriving.”

-Eric Anderson, CTO of Airbrake

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