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 systems and processes. Consumer behaviour 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.
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.
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.
‘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. According to Seinker, the hybrid working model will likely see even greater growth in 2022, especially among corporates who hadn’t considered it before, signalling a substantial shift in how we’ve always assumed work should be done.
3. 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,’ he added.
4. 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.’
5. 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 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, 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.
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. 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.