To everyone reading, a huge happy new year! May 2021 bring much health and happiness, less need for the word unprecedented and furlough and more of the good stuff!
I am under no illusion that the clock ticking over to 2021 will change anything of real significance, but with the start of a new year comes new hope, new possibility and right now new opportunity. For the Built Environment globally, the COVID-19 era has proved to be a catalyst for changes which were already happening. These changes have simply been accelerated and will no doubt provide great opportunities. If both firms and individuals alike can prepare themselves, then the opportunities provided by 2021 will provide a boom.
These expectations are shared by many in my network and whilst I cannot claim monopoly on their origins, I’d like to share them with you as an optimistic light for what the year ahead will bring:
1. People will come first
This isn’t new, but firms who plan ahead and support the right People will fare much better than those who put profit or projects first. Whilst many people have struggled in 2020, in and out of work, those firms who put people first will have the best foundation for the opportunities which will arise in 2021. Our greatest asset is people is the mantra which every firm should have, more so now than ever before. The churn and burn mentality which some have been known for will no longer be acceptable – put your people first and your business will thrive. Whilst it will not change overnight, my hope is that L&D budgets burst at the seams as firms invest in their staff.
2. Working apart becomes the norm
Despite not being able to travel to site, see clients face to face or work next to your colleagues, the world has become more adept with technology and firms have become more streamlined in delivering projects from their kitchen table. Pre-COVID-19, A&D firms were stuck in the ice age with the gig economy and rarely favoured flexible working. Now, the majority have fared better than they expected, and most will never go back to the old way of working. True, much is better face to face, and nothing creates a company culture better than being in a physical environment together, but I believe gone are the rigid days of the 9-5 in an office for many. I am so excited to see how this issue is tackled, what the future of the office will look like and what technology can do to help.
3. International is king
The world became a very small place seemingly overnight. With us all, in some way, being plunged into lockdowns and restrictions, I was amazed how adaptable people were and how easy it became to still engage with people around the world. Through this, our business was one of many who took advantage and in 2020 almost 3/4 of our work was outside of the UK or for clients working on international projects. Yes, travel bans make it hard to generate new business in certain parts of the world, but as we are all in the same boat those who have been empowered to work internationally have really thrived. I see country borders become more blurred in 2021 and the willingness to collaborate with our friends around the world will become the norm.
4. The rise of Asia
The overwhelming majority of those entering the middle-class economy is in Asia. By 2030, it is expected that 90% will come from Asia (mainly China, India and developing SE Asia countries). Therefore, the pressure is on the Architects, Designers & Engineers of this world to create the environment which will allow this powerhouse to thrive. Asia will have a huge say in what the new normal is and anyone who considers it an East vs West fight, which many media outlines try to portray, is unequivocally wrong. I am blown away by the urbanisation in China and from seeing this part of the world welcome European & North American companies with open arms has been wonderful to see. The rise in Asia should be not be seen as an opportunity to make huge sums, but an opportunity to create the future of the global built environment.
5. Employers will rush to hire talent
There is no doubt 2020 saw a real nervousness to hire. It also saw a delay to projects and a backlog of projects across the world. Opportunities will not be kept in the dark forever and when those embers start to rise there will be a huge need for new employees. From graduates who can offer energy, dynamism and a willingness to learn through to Directors who have been there, done that and can help firms put their best foot forward, the opportunities for new work will flow. Employers will once again find it a war on talent to recruit the right employees. I see this being across permanent staff as well as firms embracing the gig economy. There is huge value in building out a core team as well as the flexible workforce provided by freelancers and those firms who can spark the right balance will have a workforce set to deliver the best results.
I see many more opportunities arising in 2021 but the balance of a people centric, international business is one which will thrive in the new normal.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you expect in 2021, whether you agree or disagree. Until then stay well, stay safe and the best of luck for thriving in 2021!