2021: A Prelude to Next Normal

The global response to the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a unique economic reaction we had yet to see in recent memory. 2020 saw economic rubber-banding on a scale hitherto unseen on a global scale—with rapid contraction and recovery occurring in the span of a single fiscal year. This turbulent reaction shines a much-needed spotlight on the inherent elasticity of modern economics and consumer appetite. 

While entire industries contract to the point of mass layoffs and closures, others would recover quickly or even thrive—as in the case of health insurance and the F&B sectors. The adoption of novel terminology and processes had become core to the incredible pace at which the global market—and indeed the modern business—operates in. 2020 was a year of “new normals” and corporate Darwinism that saw the rise and fall of many in the face of the ongoing pandemic. As 2021 gains momentum, those who have adapted in the previous year will look to the inevitable evolution of our shared circumstances, and those savvier still, will embrace the coming of the “next normal.” 

Percentage change of real GDP from the same period a year ago (CNBC, OECD

Technology had often been driven by necessity, and through many of our historical challenges: in technology lay the solution. Last year’s problems of isolation and distance gave way to new solutions and standard operating procedures in communication and corporate efficiency. Traditional marketing and networking methodologies had adopted digital stand-ins and a general trend of rapid digitalization would define the course of the next normal. 

Evolving the Status Quo   

For many companies, the immediate challenges of 2020 were centered around two core concerns: productivity and revenue. Social distancing, lockdown orders, procedural instability, and reduced consumer spending power were the direct causes of an under-performing second quarter as entire companies had to shift heavily entrenched practices into new territories. 

The concerted effort to adopt digital solutions began with the immediately apparent need to problem-solve daily communications in a socially distant reality. By the Spring of 2020, Zoom Video Communication (ZM) quickly became a household name. Having seen astronomic adoption rates since the onset of the pandemic, the self-dubbed “video first communications platform” nearly quadrupled its year-over-year revenue up to 367% in 2020. Other communications and team management tools such as Microsoft Teams or Google Meet would also see their own growth expedited as whole companies moved the majority of their operations to digital means.  

Communications in the new normal had become virtual. Webcams and microphones became remote working staples, and a litany of new digital etiquette and norms would emerge from the digital hubs that formed around entire companies and communities. With over 200 million daily meeting participants, 100 million DAUs (Daily Active Users), and the ever-increasing demand for virtual communication, digital transformation a new necessity for corporations.

Parallel to the communications challenges faced by many, corporations also faced a direct hindrance to the traditionally on-ground human resource development practices. New hire onboarding processes, annual performance reviews, and internal upskilling needs demanded immediate solutions. Digital Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Moodle, Coursera, Skillshare, and Docebo, provided a brave new frontier to explore for companies looking to reinvigorate their digital training and upskilling capabilities. 

For the early entrants into the digital learning space, the pandemic was a windfall. Coursera had gained over 20 million new learners, while Skillshare would grow to 12 million registered users by mid-summer 2020. Swift consumer adoption of a particular platform or toolset often represents a much larger demand for growth in that sector. Skillshare for Teams, as in the case of our own Levio are indicative of the corporate appetite for new digital learning platforms. While Skillshare would garner corporate clientele the likes of Vice, AWS, and Lululemon, our push into the Indonesian market would earn Levio thousands of new users from the nation’s largest financial institutions. 

On a more obvious note, a McKinsey Quarterly report would find that 2020 saw a decade’s worth of growth in 3 months for US e-commerce penetration and it would come as little surprise that a worldwide e-commerce boom would follow. What is of particular interest however are the follow-on effects of widespread e-commerce adoption during a time of recession and pandemic-driven isolation. 

Jakarta Post webinar would share that Tokopedia had over 8.3 million small to medium enterprises on its platform by early the summer of 2020, with the Indonesian government looking to have 10 million micro, small, and medium enterprises or MSMEs adopt digital platforms by year’s end. This unprecedented digital adoption and e-commerce growth is a small symptom of the larger economic contraction happening around the world.

In Indonesia alone, of the purported 60 million MSMEs, 42% of its offline and 24% of its online MSMEs had stopped operating in the face of the recession. For the Indonesian government and key leaders in the tech space, digitalization represents the key for economic survivability and growth, and on the subject, Rizal Mananik of the Cooperative and SME Minister’s staff would say: “This is the way that we can address economic inequality.” 

The pandemic and the follow-on rapid digital transformations it predicated showed us that many of our preconceived notions of permanence were markedly untrue. Workplace attendance requirements had been called into question as many found that life – and business – continued unabated when supplemented by the right tools. 

The pandemic has accelerated the transition into a fully digitalized workflow 

Exploring the Next Normal 

2020’s new normal had tackled the immediate issues of communications, learning, digital consumer, and business habits. Akin to the formatting of Maslow’s Hierarchy, we believe that the new normal solutions of 2020 presented the baseline needs of functionality for both corporations and the general population. Communications, corporate logistics, and personal finance had adapted quickly to digital solutions, while learning, development, and training solutions went through their own growing pains and highs throughout the year.  

A digital-first next-normal would present the need for a fundamental reassessment of our collective digital infrastructure. For the many new entrepreneurs who sought supplementary income through e-commerce or the entrenched corporate behemoths looking to maintain productivity, the internet had become a base necessity. Governments and telecommunications entities may recognize the opportunity in demand and capitalize on the chance to shore up internet connectivity – empowering many more to take on the digital shift.  

Should connectivity continue to expand, we envision a next normal that could further rely on increased internet access, expanded digital literacy, and normalized digital mobility. If 2020 saw one of the largest widespread shifts from traditional to digital systems, 2021 will bring with it the largest digitally literate population we have ever seen.  

The pains of the previous year proved to many that the workplace can be remote and that barriers to entry for entrepreneurship are at a historical low. This normalization of remote working and supplementary income may define a next normal that revolves around decentralized corporate functionality and individual flexibility in the workplace.

For businesses, the immediate challenges will deal primarily with employee tracking, training, and alignment across a geographically scattered workforce. Learning and performance management systems that were “trendy” in the early 2010s will become a corporate standard, while self-improvement and other learning opportunities may become a normative perk of employment. 

Skillshare’s spirited investment into its enterprise-facing offering: Skillshare for Teams, represents an aggressive shift in the learning field. Offsite, remote, socially distant, or nomadic workforces are all synonymic symptoms of a next normal wherein a detached corporate workforce will operate, improve, and evolve through loose digital tethers. Investments into systemic changes that deal specifically with empowering human resource departments through greater tracking and communication may present the next enterprise rush. Personal improvement, peer-to-peer learning, and small to medium learning solutions will change the face of learning and continue to erode the archaic academic institutions that have struggled to maintain relevance during the pandemic. 

For us, the next normal will first see a concerted push to empower through digitalization. Whether on a corporate or personal scale, the digital next normal will likely take a next step in improving and streamlining many of the systems that had been tested in 2020. 

The exploration of the next normal will be a big focus for Agate, and we’ll take the time to explore a range of subjects as the year progresses, but in the interest of brevity, we’ll end this article with some questions for the floor. 

What new normal trends would you like to see continued? 

What next normal trends do you foresee?  

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About Agate Level Up & Gamification Products: 

Established in 2010, Agate Level Up is the Indonesian frontrunner of gamified solutions to help companies reach their full potential. More than 100 clients from various industries throughout our one decade of experience is a testament on how having fun is detrimental to our collective success. We believe in fun, are you ready to thrive from it? 

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