How Business Will Permanently Change in 2021

Succeeding in a Transformed Post-Pandemic World

With the end of the pandemic in sight, a new U.S. administration in place, and Brexit a reality, 2021 is quickly becoming a new dawn for business and government. Digital, social, and economic shifts will continue to gain momentum, propelling companies and cities into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This is a defining moment for business leaders and policymakers. Like other seminal turning points in history, it is galvanizing technological, market, and social forces already in an unprecedented manner.

As this new era continues to unfold, private- and public-sector leaders will require visionary thinking and actionable insights to keep their organizations profitable and their cities safe. To fill this need, ESI ThoughtLab is conducting several thought leadership research programs throughout 2021 to analyze how industries and cities will need to adapt their approaches and digital strategies to succeed. Are you and your clients prepared for 10 ways that business will forever change?

  1. Everything goes digital. Digitalization will upend all industries, giving rise to remote medicine, online education, mobile banking, and smart manufacturing. From operations and sales to HR and financial management, everything that can be better done digitally, will be.
  2. Customers reset priorities. A year of social distancing is permanently shifting the demands, priorities, and shopping behaviors of customers across generations. Customers will expect digital experiences, hyper-personalization, and social awareness from businesses.
  3. The pre-pandemic workplace does not return. Now that agile and remote digital working has been shown to boost productivity, there will be no turning back. Boundaries between firms and ecosystem partners will blur, IT platforms will modernize, and the future of work will start now.
  4. Smart connectivity and on-cloud platforms transform business. The convergence of AI, IoT, cloud, 5G, and faster computing will speed business processes and decision-making while creating seamless connections among billions of devices, products, and services.
  5. Distance loses its relevance. Proximity will matter less to companies across industries, from retail and entertainment to banking and manufacturing. Customer relations will become contactless, except where personal access can provide added value or a competitive edge.
  6. The pandemic ends, but disruption remains. The pandemic has shown that we live in an interconnected world where disruption can occur suddenly and cascade unexpectedly. Agility and resilience will drive business success.
  7. Technology empowers citizens and consumers. Digital connectivity will give people greater input into political, business, and product decisions. Governments will use technology to achieve their social, economic, and environmental goals, with an eye on building digital equality.
  8. Cities adopt a 4.0 framework. The most successful cities will use technology, data, and citizen engagement to achieve sustainable development goals. They will use an agile ecosystem of partners to drive change and support new ways of doing business.
  9. Capitalism becomes inclusive. The crisis has served as a wake-up call for business to think, act, and invest for the common good. Firms will move from shareholder to stakeholder capitalism to meet the changing expectations of customers, investors, and employees.
  10. The US democratic tsunami will redraw the business landscape. While businesses will likely see increases in taxes and regulations, they should also expect a revitalized economy with greater geopolitical alignment and a sharper focus on sustainability and social responsibility.

Big Shifts Lie Ahead

The 2021 thought leadership agenda has been set. The pandemic has shown that we live in an increasingly interconnected world where disruption can occur suddenly and cascade unexpectedly. Agility and resilience must continue to be a driving force for business and government to succeed. Massive transformative shifts lie ahead, and to help our clients and governments around the world, we will be building off of these themes and conducting several cutting-edge evidence-based research initiatives throughout the year. You can preview many of our discussion papers highlighting these themes and current research programs by clicking here.

We’re calling this moment ‘The Big Shift’, and we would love to hear your thoughts on these topics.  In our opinion, successful thought leadership is a team sport, requiring collaboration and the right blend of analytical, editorial, and marketing skills. Please contact us today if you would like to learn how you can join one of our many exciting programs.


Lou Celi, Chief Executive Officer, ESI ThoughtLab 

Lou Celi is Founder and CEO of ESI ThoughtLab. During his more than 35 years of research, marketing and publishing work, Mr. Celi has helped top organizations build their businesses by engaging corporate and government decision makers. Prior to setting up ESI ThoughtLab, Lou was board director and president of Oxford Economics, where he built the firm’s successful business in the Americas and set up its global thought leadership practice.