18 Cross-industry trends that will gain traction in the post-COVID world

While the corona crisis has paralysed many sectors, there are signs of improvement, and trendwatching is now more important than ever.

Times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 outbreak, cause immense damage to the world. The coronavirus has infected more than 15 million people across the globe and claimed almost a million lives. To add insult to injury, the world economy has suffered a major blow from COVID-19 as well. Estimates show that the pandemic could cost the global economy between $5.8 and $8.8  trillion. And while this horrendous crisis has paralysed many sectors, there are also signs of improvement. Trendwatching is now more important than ever. We’ve compiled a list of emerging cross-industry trends that are gaining traction as we speak.

1. AI and machine learning could help accelerate business growth

AI and machine learning are among the main tech disruptors today. A 2019 Baun&Company survey showed that a staggering 90 per cent of tech executives claim that these technologies are priorities to be incorporated in their products, while 87 per cent of companies stated they’re not satisfied with the current use of AI. Boston Consulting Group underlines that companies will benefit from AI and machine learning moving forward as we operate in a data-driven world. Despite the current crises, data keeps piling up and smart algorithms can help decipher and analyse data, and provide actionable insights you can use to improve your business. The latest Boston Consulting Group research has shown that as much as 14 per cent of companies employing AI were able to increase both sales growth and profit margins during previous economic downturns. 

2. E-learning is now more valuable than ever

Education, just like most industries today, is undergoing a major digital transformation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, most schools have had to switch to online learning to be able to maintain social distancing, while at the same time keeping the learning and teaching process uninterrupted. Teachers as well as students are getting used to these new digital learning systems. In fact, it’s estimated that by 2024, the value of the e-learning market will have grown by $24.23 billion, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 12 per cent. One of the major drivers of this market growth is global school closures to prevent possible exposure to the novel Coronavirus. In 195 countries worldwide, over 1.5 billion students could not attend classes at schools that, besides implementing restrictive measures, had to switch to a completely new system regardless of their digital readiness.

Edtech is becoming increasingly popular, and more and more educators are turning to digital tools to ensure high-quality knowledge transfer. Google Classroom, for instance, has become increasingly common in schools, enabling teachers to better connect with students online. Then there’s Elucidat, a web-based system that helps teachers create learning resources themselves. The system provides a built-in page template editor and all you have to do is choose a theme and make necessary changes until the material meets your requirements for a particular course.

3. Telehealth: the rise and rise of virtual healthcare  

Virtual physicians, AI-powered tools, and wearables are some of the cutting-edge technologies that are increasingly being used to assist both doctors and patients. This is especially beneficial in cases where people need to see a doctor but are unable to make an in-person appointment, or during times like these, when avoiding gatherings of any kind and maintaining social distance is a must. As a result, we’re seeing many technological breakthroughs and solutions whose market value see significant growth. The telemedicine market in Europe, for instance, is expected to grow from $9.93 billion in 2020 to $19.2 billion in 2025, with a compound annual growth rate of 14.1 per cent. We’re seeing a significant increase in the number of people using digital healthcare. In the Netherlands, for instance, there’s a number of companies dedicated to providing innovative solutions. Dutch multinational conglomerate corporation Philips, for instance, in collaboration with the Ministry for Health, Wellness & Sport, and the Erasmus Medical Center, developed an online COVID-19 portal for sharing patient data. Many patients were moved between hospitals across the country to alleviate the burden on some hospitals. Of course, all patient information needed to be accessible at all times within a highly confidential data sharing system. Since the launch of the COVID-19 portal, as much as 95 per cent of hospitals in the Netherlands have started using the system.

4. Remote work is the new standard

Nothing has seen such a seismic shift like the way we conduct business. While working remotely is hardly something new, the trend is gaining enormous traction and is definitely here to stay. We’re seeing large numbers of companies adopting new work models. According to the latest Gartner report, almost 50 per cent of organisations reported that more than 81 per cent of their employees have switched to remote work. ”It is critical for business leaders to understand the large-scale shifts that are changing how people work and how business gets done,” emphasised Brian Kropp, chief of research for the Gartner HR practice. “Then, they must apply this knowledge to their specific organization so they can alter their strategy accordingly.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased interest in remote working due to several reasons. For one, companies have had to ensure that their businesses run as smoothly as possible. The second reason is that this model of work helps adherence to social distancing measures and protects employee health. Given that this model of work is currently preferable to physical office work for various reasons, we will soon see increasing numbers of businesses going fully remote, even after COVID. Companies might also increasingly embrace a hybrid approach where there would be “A teams and B teams working [remotely] on different days,” introducing the most efficient “remote work policies to ensure a strong workplace culture and efficient operations as they work with distributed teams.”

5. Cybersecurity vigilance in the post-COVID world

With millions switching to remote work and operating their businesses from various online platforms, controlling and tackling the issue of data traffic has never been more challenging. The global cost of cybercrime, for instance, is expected to hit $6 trillion a year by the end of 2021. One example to what extent data breaches can endanger a business is Marriott International, an American multinational diversified hospitality company. At the end of February 2020, the company suffered a major data breach, compromising the personal information of 5.2 million guests. Malicious actors used the advantage of the pandemic and started attacking collaboration platforms. In April 2020 more than 500,000 users of the popular, California-headquartered communications platform Zoom, were affected in the cyber attack. And hackers are becoming increasingly cunning, using the present Coronavirus situation to compromise peoples’ privacy and endanger businesses. In June, Japanese automaker Honda informed that the company suffered a major cyberattack which affected their internal servers leading to a suspension of some of its auto and motorcycle production. Another example is Israeli fintech company Sapiens. The company was forced to pay “a $250,000 ransom in bitcoin after hackers threatened to shut down the company’s network.” These are just some of the companies that reported cyberattacks becoming more frequent. In fact, the number of breaches increased by a whopping 273 per cent in the first quarter of 2020.

6. The rise and rise of digital retailing

The e-commerce market in Europe is set to reach a value of almost $850 billion by the end of 2020, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 12.7 per cent. Western Europe makes up a staggering 70 per cent of this total market value. In some countries, people prefer shopping online at domestic, rather than foreign websites. In the Netherlands, for instance, as much as 95 per cent of shoppers purchase their goods from domestic websites, while in smaller countries such as Malta or Cyprus, the vast majority of shoppers seem to be purchasing from foreign e-commerce websites. Shopping online is ultra-convenient, but before the pandemic, online shopping was mostly reserved for purchasing clothes and gadgets. However, with the introduction of social distancing regulations and movement restriction orders, people have had to increasingly turn online for their daily necessities like groceries. In the Netherlands, there’s a growing trend of food subscriptions. As much as 36 per cent of Dutch shoppers subscribe to subscription-based fruit and vegetable deliveries. According to research by UK-based packaging company Amcor, shoppers still value produce freshness and packaging recyclability, as Chris Fesen, marketing director Food at Amcor points out. “Many consumers are still concerned by freshness and food waste – and in a brick-and-mortar store, shoppers can visibly check the freshness of produce, meat and dairy but this is more difficult with home delivery. Brands should opt for packaging that keeps food safe and fresh in transit and displays this freshness to re-assure customers.” Digital retailing is gaining more traction amid the pandemic, and we’re likely to witness the trend’s growth well into the future, with more retailers embracing online models and becoming more sustainable in both physical and digital retail ecosystems.

7. Conducting business in the cloud

The value of the global cloud computing industry is forecasted to increase from $371.4 billion in 2020 to $832.1 billion by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 17.5 per cent. As a result of the pandemic, many businesses have suffered a huge blow. The sudden lockdown measures have forced companies to increasingly start moving their business online. This meant that they needed cloud computing platforms and systems that allow for a wide variety of computing services that can sustain a huge data influx, exchange, and storage. Estimates show that as much as 67 per cent of enterprise infrastructure and software is expected to become cloud-based by the end of 2020. Educational institutions, in particular, have come into the spotlight when it comes to speeding up the pace of cloud services adoption. Online learning offers numerous benefits, such as wider access to education for students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend classes, and some universities have been able to cut their tuition fees as a result of moving their courses online. Jovana Karanvic, a researcher in digital platforms at VU Amsterdam in the Netherlands, said, however, that “online learning may produce a precarious gig economy to connect students and educators. This competitive, fragmented learning landscape could raise accountability issues, prompt a loss of academic expertise and lower teaching standards.” Nevertheless, given that most industries and sectors see more benefits than downsides from cloud computing, it’s likely that we will see more institutions jumping on the bandwagon once they introduce proper training and increase digitalisation.

8. Headway: organisational growth mindset amid the COVID-19 pandemic

The key to business success under pressure is to embrace a growth mindset, as it sets the foundation for new norms and standards. In practice, this means that regardless of the impact of the pandemic and the damage it’s caused across industries, it’s still important to prioritise several important goals. The first step is to examine your business model through a magnifying glass and see what needs to be changed to meet the customers’ ever-growing expectations. Secondly, it’s essential to be open to changing your business model if and when required. To get a fresh outlook, make sure your employees and business partners know that you’ll support experimentation and that they feel free to come forward with new ideas. This could help your company to thrive – even in less than ideal circumstances. That’s how you’ll ensure that a growth mindset becomes a vital part of your business.

NeuroLeadership Institute South Africa, a leading global research organisation and pioneer in the neuroscience of leadership, conducted interviews with 20 organisations from the US, Australia, and Europe to determine the importance of nurturing a growth mindset when a company experiences change and transformation. The research has indicated that in organisations that had started to build an organisational growth mindset, workers showed 47 per cent higher trust in their company, and 34 per cent of the survey participants were more likely to commit to the company. As much as 65 per cent showed “stronger agreement that their company supports risk-taking”, while 47 per cent of employees now express higher trust in their company.

9. Next-gen databases

Increased connectedness and the growing number of smart devices translate to ever expanding amounts of data being stored and exchanged. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, databases have become increasingly valuable. Among other things, they provide tools for easier tracking of the virus that causes the disease. One such example is a crowdsourced contact tracing application dubbed COVID-19 Community developed by San-Francisco-based Neo4j Inc., “that uses cell phone tracking to make a quick identification of users who have entered a hotspot as well as to alert health professionals.” TigerGraph Inc., another California-based company, has designed a free kit for government and health officials. “Our Starter Kit comes with a sample dataset, schema, and queries for big data analysis, giving you the ability to detect hubs of infection and track the movements of potential spreaders. The free kit can store billions of entities such as people, locations, medical supplies & drugs, their properties, and connections.”

10. The pandemic is introducing new retail trends

The latest KPMG Global Retail Trends 2020 report underlines the four accelerating trends that are crucial on the road to recovery for businesses brought to their knees by COVID-19. As businesses head towards a corona-free future, they should keep an eye on the key moments that could help them grow. Firstly, they should embrace an evolving retail business model that’s suitable for customers who value retailer readiness and preparedness to cater to their needs even during the crisis. For instance, as many as 47 per cent of Millennials, Generation Z’s, and lower-income earners are choosing environmentally-oriented brands. So, focussing on sustainability is a good route to go in retail. But there’s various other factors that impact the future of retail in a post-COVID world.

“In the post-COVID-19 environment, consumers will place greater emphasis on both convenience and safety. During the lockdowns, we have seen brands and shopping centers using Wechat Mini-programs, online social groups and live streaming videos to reach consumers through new channels without the need for foot traffic,” noted  Jessie Qian, partner, and head of consumer & retail for KPMG in China. “Customer data has now become both an important and a valuable asset. Brands and retailers will aim to leverage the use of customer data to improve business efficiency and increasingly provide more targeted and personalised services.” Besides the greater focus on convenience, safety, and personalisation, consumers are also increasingly turning to their communities and supporting local businesses. Mintel, a London-based market research company has reported that 55 per cent of adults who participated in their survey will choose to buy from local retailers if possible. Localism in Italy is even more prominent at 72 per cent. Sustainability, price- and value-conscious retailing, supporting local businesses, and ensuring safety will be prevalent trends in years to come.

11. 5G will enable data traffic at ultra-high speeds

The European 5G infrastructure market is set to reach a value of $42.7 billion by 2027, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 85.1 per cent from 2020 to 2027. Ensuring 10 times better connectivity without latency, the tech is expected to support advanced technologies like VR, autonomous vehicles, and an ever-growing number of smart devices that enable unprecedented connectedness and data influx. Early 5G trial deployment projects at European manufacturers indicate that bringing 5G connectivity to factory floors will increase overall equipment efficiency by 7 per cent, and decrease maintenance costs by 30 per cent, ASSEMBLY reports.

“Safer, flexible and more efficient manufacturing systems will be possible thanks to the ultra-low-latency and reliability of 5G connectivity,” says Jens Jakobsen, development manager at HMS Labs, a company that specialises in connected devices and networks. “None of the wireless technologies used today have the reliability, scalability and performance which is needed for tomorrow’s industrial production. Jakobsen stresses  that wireless isn’t reliable enough nor does it have great performance required for tomorrow’s industrial production. “The industrial world is undergoing its fourth revolution, and the goals are to increase flexibility, increase automation and improve productivity, while also maintaining a high degree of safety and sustainability. Therefore, using 5G is the perfect solution for enabling smart wireless connectivity in the factory.”

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei plans to build a 5G-powered factory in France that’s already begun cybersecurity screening all 5G equipment before deployment. “The plant will be built in France, whatever the French government’s decision, as it is part of our strategy,”  said Huawei France’s deputy chief executive Minggang Zhang. And while the Chinese tech giant isn’t the only company competing on the European 5G battleground, the French government will opt for the one that is the most suitable in terms of the country’s safety and strategic interests, as French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire explains. “The position that has been taken on 5G is very clear. We won’t discriminate against any company, neither Chinese nor American. We are simply looking after our security and strategic interests.”

And while many praise 5G tech and its potential, some believe that it will take some time until the tech hits factory floors worldwide. “In the short term, 5G will be used to connect factory sites that previously have been unconnected or have poor connections due to technical or economic constraints, like remote factories with limited internet options,” underlines Aaron Kamphuis, data analytics and IoT practice manager at OST, a business technology and consulting firm. “In the long term, it will take a few years for market adoption.”

12. Robots enter the future

Almost 2 million industrial robots will be deployed in factories by 2022. According to Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the value of the robotics market is expected to reach $87 billion by 2025, while Tractica forecasts that robotics and AI together will reach  a value of $237 billion by 2022. As much as 45 to 65 of all workers in Europe fear being replaced by intelligent robots by 2030. Up to 70 per cent of tasks will eventually be automated, and despite a generally positive attitude towards automation, workers with a humble educational background will be most affected. The fact that millions of jobs will be lost on the road to automation should prompt governments to promote continuous learning opportunities through innovative platforms, to ensure that we have enough skilled workers and that everyone can benefit from technological advancements.

The retail sector currently shows the most visible benefits of automation, especially now, during the pandemic. People have, for instance, turned to contact-free ways of paying in stores and European supermarkets like Albert Heijn and Carrefour have already jumped on the automation bandwagon to ensure contactless shopping. Head of partnerships at checkout-free store builder AiFi, Liu Yang, emphasises the importance of autonomous stores during the pandemic. “It helps transform stores against infection transmission and builds trust with both shoppers and store staff.”

Online shopping and deliveries have skyrocketed, too. British multinational groceries and general merchandise retailer Tesco has doubled its online capacity, reaching a rate of two orders per second. It’s clear that more retailers should embrace automation since it allows safe, fast, and uber-convenient shopping experiences.

13. Intelligent devices prove to be valuable assets across industries

It’s estimated that there will be almost 14 billion connected devices by 2020. This means that we will see more businesses turning to smart devices as well since they enable real-time remote controlling and monitoring especially when 5G comes onto the scene providing seamless data flows and unprecedented speeds.  In healthcare, for instance, this would mean that smart hospitals will increasingly start using smart pills and other intelligent wearable devices to monitor body functions, and vital parameters such as blood pressure, heart rate, glucose levels, and more. From the onset of the pandemic, companies have started using smart fever screening kits to ensure safe working conditions, and these and similar kits are likely to be around for some time to come. D-Link, for instance, a market leader in surveillance solutions, has developed the Group Temperature Screening Camera (DCS-9500T) with a dual-lens thermographic camera, blackbody calibrator, and management software. The device combines thermal imaging technology with AI which enables it to tell ”if a person is experiencing elevated temperatures, and raises the alarm automatically should this be detected”. It’s suitable for monitoring larger areas such as hospitals, schools, airports, factories, and pretty much any facility where a larger number of people gather.

14. Employee wellbeing translates to company success

As many countries across the world struggle to keep their economies afloat, Europe – often considered “a home of overly generous social policies” – has initiated programmes that could act as a prophylaxis against this recession that might be lethal for already weakened economies. “I would be more concerned in the U.S. what the cost would be,” noted Ángel Talavera, an economist at Oxford Economics in London. “For Europeans, that is not a consideration we have in mind.” Some European countries have ensured their workers not to fear job loss if they contract the disease. Denmark and the Netherlands are among the countries that have ensured  workers “a right to receive full pay, in some cases for at least six weeks, if they are ill, are quarantined or are told to stay home by their employers”. But it should be noted that “the Dutch government and the National Institute of Public Health and Environment (RIVM) are advising people to work from home, unless it is necessary for employees to perform their duties at the employer’s premises.”

Knowing that employers care about worker wellbeing is important for companies’ growth in the post-COVID world, too. Aoife O’Brien, programme manager at KerrySciTech, a cluster of companies in the South West of Ireland, nicely explained the company’s credo that ‘employees who feel well do well’.  “Our members prioritise workplace wellbeing because they know that helping their team members achieve a better balance in their working lifestyle benefits everyone. Retention levels soar, and recruitment efforts are more successful; it’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

15. Virtual companions will keep us company in the future

In recent years, AI applications have evolved from virtual assistants and intelligent chatbots to virtual companions that can help us battle loneliness. Loneliness is especially hard on the elderly, seniors who have lost a partner and live alone, without close family members to rely on. Samsung recently unveiled Neon, a project developed by its subsidiary STAR Labs aimed at delivering “immersive services that make science fiction a reality.”

Pranav Mistry, a human-computer interaction researcher and former senior vice president at Samsung Electronics, explains the system behind Neon is able to mimic realistic avatars. It can be used in different media including movies, mobile apps, and AR-powered platforms that provide immersive experiences. “We have always dreamt of such virtual beings in science fictions and movies,” Mistry said in a statement. “Neon avatars will integrate with our world and serve as new links to a better future, a world where humans are humans and machines are humane.” With almost 30 million European adults suffering from loneliness, there’s no doubt that we will soon see more intelligent virtual social companions on the market.

16. Moving goods in the post-pandemic world

With more and more people increasingly shopping online, companies are burdened with the task to deliver the goods at an ever faster pace. The competition is fierce. If you don’t meet customers’ expectations, your competitor will. This means loss of revenue and a wake-up call to those who believe that they can stick to existing delivery systems that are breaking under the increasing pressure. Owning a fleet of trucks can be an expensive endeavour. Renting is a less costly and fast solution if you opt for online platforms that offer shipping services. And for smaller and family businesses there’s platforms like Quicargo – a Dutch online road freight matching platform that identifies unused empty space in trucks from different carriers.

“Companies are realising now that they can’t just keep doing what they’ve always been doing. I think digital solutions across industries are becoming tech ambassadors. Because we’re data-driven and up to date on the latest technology, we have the responsibility to lead this adjustment period and help smaller and more traditional companies innovate,” explains Avishai Trabelsi, CEO of Quicargo.

17. Blockchain: safety first

Now that the world is experiencing increased numbers of cybersecurity breaches and attacks, more and more companies and institutions are turning to solutions that can ensure safe data storage and exchange. One such solution, from the Dutch hybrid blockchain company LTO Network, enables digital verification of digital assets while ensuring collaboration with decentralised workflows.  “Instant access to reliable and verified information has been critical during these times, which would explain why different organizations have pushed the pedal on integrating blockchain in their operations. Next to verified information supply, there has been significantly less personal contact during the pandemic. For this reason, the role of the intermediary/middleman is being re-evaluated even more than before,” says Rick Schmitz, CEO of LTO Network.

18. Revival of the travel industry

Travelling in the post-COVID world will likely be slightly different than what we’re used to. As the global economy slowly recovers, countries will start opening up their borders again, but where to go? Instead of going abroad and experiencing cultures in countries far, far away, it’s expected that people will actually gravitate more towards domestic destinations. One of the trends that will prevail is keeping cleanliness and hygiene at the highest levels. With many people stressed out by the pandemic, we’re likely to seek out destinations that provide great wellness programmes to help us reset our immune systems. Eventually we’ll start venturing out further away again, but we’ll likely remain very conscious of how diseases can spread and how to prevent infections. 

“Part of re-opening and recovery means that destinations, attractions, hotels, airlines, etc. will need to demonstrate to potential visitors that they are doing everything they can to minimise the risk as they travel to and once they are in the destination by following best practices,” says Amir Eylon, chief executive of leading travel and tourism research company Longwoods International. “They will also need to demonstrate to the local residents, who may be wary, that they are asking visitors to ‘play by the rules.’”

Trendwatching is now more important than ever

At times like these, with the pandemic having disrupted almost every industry, it’s essential to look at trends that could help get economies back on track again. Observing the approaches of new trend adopters and which companies are the first to try and test new methods can help you stay afloat and thrive in the business world. We need to stop panicking, and instead direct our focus on the future. Experimenting is important, and being open to new ideas could save businesses and economies from total meltdown. Future-focused leaders have already started moving forward embracing the new, and that’s exactly what we all should be doing.

This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

Trendwatcher, futurist and international keynote speaker Richard van Hooijdonk takes you to an inspiring future that will dramatically change the way we live, work and do business.

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