Five Business Trend Predictions for the 2020s

February 5, 2020

A former business partner of mine has kept a framed picture on his wall for his entire career, or at least for the 30 years that I have known him. It is a picture of an older man, wizardly in appearance, who is staring intently into a large crystal ball.

When I first saw this picture, I asked my partner why he had this hanging on his wall. “Much of what any of us do in business,” he said, “is an attempt to predict the outcomes of our decisions and actions. We are hoping to successfully predict the future.” This picture was a daily reminder to him of that challenge and its significance to business.

Certainly, none of us can predict the future. But each of us makes decisions every day based on what we believe the future will hold. We attempt to anticipate how situations will occur, how others may react, or what we believe will be the results of our efforts.

The business world is changing more rapidly today than ever before. The next decade will continue to experience new trends and business models we can’t foresee. But there are signs of changes and trends starting now that will become more prevalent and have a greater impact on business in the next few years. Below are some of the top trends I believe we will see in the business community during the next decade.

Greater focus on increased productivity:

There continues to be a labor shortage. Regardless, virtually every industry is seeking more productivity than ever before. Businesses want to produce more, with fewer resources and in less time, to remain competitive. Automation, robotics and software developments will be large factors in the need to increase productivity. But the way we work will change as well. Remote work options will become more prevalent. Companies will begin outfitting their employees with greater technology tools and fewer office spaces. The office environment will transition into more of a touchdown environment. Working from home will take on a greater emphasis to avoid unproductive commutes to and from work. More meetings will be held digitally, and business travel will become more focused and purposeful. In every manner possible, businesses will continually seek opportunities to do more with less.

Millennials moving into the C-Suites:

The old guard of the C-suite, the baby boomers, are rapidly exiting the positions of power within organizations. Understandably, the youngest baby boomers are now approaching their sixties. Conversely, the oldest of the millennial generation are now in their mid-thirties, with 10 to 15 years of experience in the workplace. Given the sheer size of the millennial generation and the relatively small size of Generation X, millennials will increasingly start occupying the C-suite offices. This generation will bring a new and different mindset and culture to business. Their new-found leadership will allow them to impact change, and the business world will adapt to the power of this generation. For the past number of years, baby boomers have complained about millennials. But during the next 10 years, the millennial generation will take over the business world from the boomers.

Less employee turnover:

During the past few years, employee turnover and job-hopping have consistently increased. The data shows that millennials move around more often than previous generations, and this trend continues to pose a problem for businesses. It’s a well-documented fact that employee turnover is extremely expensive for companies. The best companies have been responding to this trend with several initiatives focused on retaining their employees. These retention programs have begun to work, and at a number of companies, employee retention rates have begun to increase. Coupled with data showing that people are likely to hold more trust in an employer than most other institutions, they will begin taking a longer-term approach to employment. As the millennial generation continues to age, they will desire employers where they can invest in a long-term career and become an integral part of that company. Consequently, individuals who continue to change jobs often will have a greater chance of being labeled as unreliable and a hiring risk.

Continued growth of entrepreneurship:

Entrepreneurship has been a big buzzword for the last 10 years. But the wave of entrepreneurship is just beginning. Today, it is easier than ever to start a new business. Whether becoming a solopreneur, taking on freelancing work, joining the ranks of a consultant or simply creating a new business, there are more tools and technology available today than ever before to facilitate this process. Social media has made advertising readily available and inexpensive and allows funding to be found in ways never imagined. A large percentage of corporations are embracing 1099 employees, those who work as independent contractors and are not company hires. Individuals with specific skill sets are finding opportunities with a variety of businesses who desperately need those skills on a part-time or as-needed basis. And entrepreneurship has now become an arena where one can easily work for a few years, then go back to working as a full-time employee for a company, without receiving a negative stigma.

Nonprofit and community engagement growth:

The past decade saw a dramatic increase in the personal wealth of the top one percent of earners. While this is a societal issue that is being hotly debated today, there is one impact that will definitely be a result of this trend--philanthropic giving. For several reasons, the wealthy will be giving away more money to nonprofits than ever before. If nothing else, the giving pledge started by billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates is anticipated to reach more than $600 billion by 2022. In response to this influx of charitable funds, nonprofits will begin to find themselves with a significant amount of dollars to manage and direct. The leadership of the millennial generation will embrace this growth in nonprofit and community engagement. As these individuals continue to assume leadership positions, they will further encourage the usage of both personal and corporate funds for philanthropy and the betterment of their communities.

The next decade will be full of exciting trends and business models. Like the picture my business partner kept on his wall, we all need to look into our figurative crystal ball and attempt to predict the trends and changes that will impact our business and careers. Doing so will provide a greater sense of direction and confidence to move forward. In turn, it will shape how we each operate individually and how corporations conduct their business.

Brian T. King is the founder and owner of multiple firms encompassing design, construction, real estate, and manufacturing, and currently president of the integrated Design-Build firm A M King. Brian shares his passion for mentoring young professionals, rising managers, and entrepreneurs at speaking engagements around the country, on podcasts, and via his blog.

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