No one saw 2020 coming. At the close of 2019, economists in the U.S. talked about the prospect of full employment, we expected Brexit to dominate headlines in Europe, and Japan was poised to open its doors to the world as host to the Summer Olympics.
COVID-19 happened instead.
The coronavirus — first described in January as a mysterious, flu-like ailment making the rounds in China — brought the global economy to a standstill. Millions lost their jobs, and over 1.4 million people lost their lives. Many of us went home, and stayed there.
2020 tested our resilience, forcing the world to change on the fly how it lives and works. As we near 2021, with the tenuous promise of a suite of vaccines, we face a new test: We will need to decide what kind of post-pandemic world we want to build, for ourselves and for future generations.
Every December, LinkedIn editors ask our community of Influencers, Top Voices and frequent contributors to share the Big Ideas they believe will define the year ahead. This year, in the shadow of a once-in-a-century pandemic, we offer a selection of predictions and thoughts on where we go from here — at work, at home and everywhere in between.
This is by no means a complete list, and we invite you to join us! What Big Ideas do you think will emerge in the year ahead? Share your thoughts in the comments or publish a post, article or video on LinkedIn with #BigIdeas2021. — Scott Olster
P.S. Check out my colleague George Anders’ analysis of what we got right — and quite wrong — in last year’s Big Ideas predictions.
See our local Big Ideas for Australia, India, the U.K., the Asia Pacific and the Gulf regions.
Yes, we’ll have a vaccine. No, it won’t let us out of social distancing
Everyone is hoping that 2021 will bring relief from the COVID-19 crisis, and public health experts believe there’s a reason to be optimistic. “The potential to have a major impact on this pandemic is very real,” said Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease and Research Policy. “And it’s all focused on a vaccine.”
But there are some caveats. While the first vaccine candidates are already moving through the approval process, it’s likely we’ll see two or three generations of vaccines over the next few years. A vaccine needs to not only be effective, but also durable — meaning the protection lasts for an extended period of time. And people must be willing to take it.
Osterholm, an advisor to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, stressed the importance of making sure that low- and middle-income countries have access to it as well; otherwise, the virus will continue to cross borders.
Treatments and diagnostics are also likely to improve, meaning that mortality rates should continue to edge downward. But next year is also likely to bring a fair bit of frustration. “The rollout of the vaccine will take longer than expected,” said Greg Martin, a Dublin-based public health specialist at Health Service Executive, who estimated that it will likely take six to nine months after approval for the general public to have access to it. With little political appetite for more lockdowns, and a collective stir craziness, cases may spike even after a vaccine is available. “We have to make sure we don’t take our foot off the pedal,” Martin said. — Beth Kutscher
The office will fight to win you back
After a year of working from home, power dynamics have shifted. Companies will need to give employees a reason to return to the office. On offer? Spaces designed for what we’ve been missing all along: Human connection, and maybe a bit of rest and relaxation, too.
“People miss people the most. There’s a credible value to real life in-person contact,” says Liz Burow, the former WeWork vice president of workplace strategy. Burow says offices will function in two key ways: As spaces where people gather for leadership, personal development and culture; and as clubhouses where they come together to collaborate and congregate. Either way, we won’t be gathering in them five days each week anymore.
This transformation won’t simply be philosophical; it’ll be physical, too.
Assigned seating is gone, says Brittney Van Matre, Nike’s director of workplace strategy and operations. Surveys from Nike show employees want to work in an office, but only twice a week. And when they do come in, they want it to be collaborative. Office design needs to accommodate this “activity-based working,” she says — the term for flexible spaces that suit a variety of needs.
But collaborative spaces alone may not be enough to draw people back, warns Van Matre. She believes companies would be wise to entice people with either “a kickass headquarters with a lot of amenities and a super slick experience” or “a really unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else.” Van Matre suggests companies may want to consider setting up outposts in unconventional locales, like rural, scenic areas more associated with leisure, creating “a reprieve” employees can gravitate towards. — Susy Jackson
For many workers, the 9-to-5 will become a 3-2-2
Business leaders are being forced to rethink how their companies will work in a post-pandemic world. One of the biggest questions they will face? Where — and when — employees can work.
By the time it’s safe to return to the office, many workers will have spent a year or more working from home. And many are enjoying the extra time and flexibility. Companies may let employees work from home two or more days per week, with some opting for three days in office, two days remote and then two days off — a 3-2-2 work week, if you will — according to Ashley Whillans, a professor at Harvard Business School. Some employers may even cut down to a four-day work week altogether.
“Employees will demand greater flexibility and organizations will require it,” Whillans said. “What this flexibility will look like will vary depending on the sector and geographic location. But, hopefully, if we do this right, gridlock morning commutes will be a thing of the past.”
Recent data from LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index shows roughly half (47%) of U.S. professionals believe their companies will allow them to be — at least partially — remote after the coronavirus pandemic wanes. That percentage is even higher among certain industries which see flex work as the future, including tech (73%), finance (67%) and media (59%). — Andrew Seaman
Next year’s must-have tech? Anything that makes us feel safer
Forget faster, better, newer and different. Next year’s technology and innovation wish list will focus on products and services that make us feel safer. Like the pulse oximeter. I hadn’t even heard of it until last March, when my wife insisted we order one. That way, if either of us contracted COVID-19, we could check our blood oxygen levels to determine how serious our illness was. Now Apple’s latest Smart Watch advertises the fact that it can detect blood oxygen levels. We will want to travel on planes that have been cleaned with an electrostatic sprayer. Those of us in fire-prone regions like Australia or the West Coast of the United States will ask Santa for an air purifier to address heavy smoke pollution. Our employers will invest in voice-activated smartphones that let first responders communicate without removing their personal protective equipment and security cameras that can map whether people are social distancing.
This demand for safety will also extend to methods large tech companies use to protect their members from harassment. We have grown increasingly worried by the risks that data misuse and misinformation pose to the people who use these services—and society at large. With widespread commercialization of everything from facial recognition to voice technology, we will lean on both government regulators and commercial advertisers to pressure these companies to handle our data responsibly. — Jessi Hempel
Get ready for global recession, Act II
As a year that’s produced no shortage of surprises comes to a close, economists are already signaling a big one for 2021: This global recession may only be the opening act.
The initial economic downturn — induced by synchronous global shutdowns as the pandemic proliferated — has led to conditions that now expose an underlying, more fundamental recession, according to economist Ernie Tedeschi. The signs? Industries that weren’t directly affected by the health crisis are now experiencing job losses, business failures and declines in spending; more layoffs that were originally classified as temporary are being classified as permanent; and the rate of long-term unemployment — a disturbing hallmark of the Great Recession — is on the rise.
The implication: A “double-dip” recession is the greatest risk for 2021, according to economist Campbell Harvey. Economist Mohamed El-Erian agrees, deeming the risk of a subsequent recession “high and rising,” based on global data he’s watching from the manufacturing and services sectors.
Such economic jargon has human implications. The United Nations is appealing for $35 billion to support its humanitarian work, projecting that a record 235 million people will need its assistance in 2021, almost a 40% jump from this year. “We won’t get a second chance to make the right choice,” said Mark Lowcock, the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs.
“The long ascent out of this year’s deep recession will be uneven, uncertain — and prone to setbacks,” Kristalina Georgieva, the head of the International Monetary Fund, told LinkedIn News. “The road to strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth will be long and difficult.” — Devin Banerjee
For leaders, character will be everything
As we strive to overcome a global pandemic and an economic recession, the character of leaders will matter as much as their competence. In 2021, servant leadership will be a competitive advantage.
Psychologists find that in the face of threats to our jobs and our lives, we become more concerned about precarity and purpose. We’re looking for a sense of confidence that our jobs are secure and a sense of contribution to a cause larger than ourselves. This will give servant leaders an edge in recruiting, motivating and retaining talented people.
Servant leaders are givers, not takers—we can count on them to put our interests above their own. They recognize that people aren’t the most important resource in a company; they are the company. They won’t lay us off at the drop of a hat; they’ll do whatever they can do to save our jobs. They won’t keep us tethered to an office or a schedule, they’ll give us the freedom and flexibility to work wherever and whenever works for us. They won’t become micromanagers; they’ll be “macromanagers” who rally people around a meaningful mission. They won’t keep us stuck in dead-end jobs; they’ll create opportunities for growth and advancement. And if there isn’t a path up, they’ll care enough to support us in finding a safe path out. — Adam Grant, organizational psychologist at Wharton, host of the TED podcast WorkLife and author of “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know,” available on February 2
We will name heatwaves like we do hurricanes and cyclones
The last decade was the hottest on record and in the past few months alone, heat records were shattered around the globe: Death Valley, CA topped 54 degrees Celsius (130 in Fahrenheit); Siberia and Europe routinely hit temperatures 7 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius higher than average, respectively; and extreme heatwaves in Australia have fueled the worst wildfires ever seen. By the turn of the century, without preventive measures, heat waves may affect 75% of people on the planet and more than 3.5 billion people by 2070, 1.6 billion of whom will live in dense urban areas where built environments magnify heat exposure. No corner of the earth is unaffected.
Heatwaves do not dramatically rip the roofs off of buildings and what they leave in their wake cannot be photographed or broadcast in the same way that wildfire, hurricane or flood damage can. Yet their effects are no less pernicious. In the U.S., more people die of extreme heat annually than any other weather-related event.
We have been naming tropical storms and hurricanes since the 1950s. Naming heatwaves will create a similar culture of awareness and preparation around the risks and impacts of heat and galvanize the necessary resources to protect and save lives. In 2021, we will name heatwaves like tropical storms and hurricanes and extreme heat will be a silent killer no longer.
Let’s get ready – Heatwave Harry is coming. — Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center at the Atlantic Council
The pandemic will send more women to the C-Suite
COVID-19 has been catastrophic for women — particularly minority women, low-income women and single mothers — as job losses mount in sectors that employ a large share of women and school closures force many working mothers to drop out of the workforce altogether. In the U.S. this fall, roughly 1.6 million fewer mothers were in the labor force than expected. But amid the struggles, we are seeing signs of a C-suite shift, with more women moving into the top executive ranks during the pandemic even as hiring at this level took a dip initially, according to LinkedIn data. Expect to see this trend to continue, as the pandemic highlights the importance of leading with empathy and the importance of supporting diverse talent. “Sometimes, nothing happens for decades and sometimes decades happen in a week. We are in a place like that,” said Catalyst CEO Lorraine Hariton on the progress she is anticipating. There are also more female CEOs in the Fortune 500 than ever before. During the pandemic, Jane Fraser became the first female CEO of a major Wall Street bank and Karen Lynch became CEO of the world’s largest health care company, CVS Health. Both appointments signal to experts that the business case for putting more women into leadership positions will turn into a mandated practice for the most competitive corporations. “We are not going back to normal,” said C. Nicole Mason, CEO of The Institute For Women’s Policy Research. “We want to see some changes in terms of how women show up in the workplace. We are half the workforce.” — Caroline Fairchild
Instead of living ‘above the store,’ we’ll live in it
It’s been an especially rough year for brick and mortar retailers. The pandemic sent shock waves through the industry, with reduced foot traffic in stores and a rapid shift to online retail options. The result? Record-breaking store closures and a fresh wave of retail bankruptcies.
All of this leaves one sticky question: What do we do with all the vacant retail space?
One option: Turn empty stores into housing. For years, urban planners have advocated for a shift towards more community-focused city centers, a more seamless blending of where people work, shop, spend their free time and where they sleep. Converting retail into housing could be seen as a next step in this movement, where spaces evolve to suit the shifting needs of the community. And some cities have already begun. In Eindhoven in the Netherlands, the city council has begun to offer subsidies to encourage its citizens to live above retailers or convert shops into housing. The city is giving property owners incentives to invest in retail-residential conversion.
Leon Erkelens, real estate consultant at Rotterdam-based Synerki, expects that city centers will become more concentrated, and shops that remain vacant will be transformed into residential units. This will increase the number of “eyes on the street” and boost safety levels, he tells LinkedIn News. Erkelens expects small cities to suffer most from the retail exodus. “Large cities will continue to have the appeal of attracting large crowds, so retail real estate will continue to repurpose itself.” — Liza Jansen
K-shaped recovery will send companies to court the wealthy
The global pandemic has created “a tale of two cities,” investor and philanthropist David Rubenstein told LinkedIn News: “The people at the top are just doing spectacularly well; the rest are falling further and further behind.”
As that K-shaped bifurcation continues in the wake of the pandemic, companies will be forced to follow the money in order to thrive — or even survive. Operate a movie theater that has been sitting largely empty? Private screenings might fill the gap, as cinema chain AMC and others are piloting. Hotel chains are courting well-to-do workers seeking private offices overlooking the beach, a trend that could continue for years. Even dollar stores are now targeting wealthier customers. “The need for this store is very relevant now — and maybe increasingly so,” Emily Taylor, Dollar General’s chief merchandising officer, said of the company’s new brand of stores called Popshelf, which is aimed at more affluent shoppers.
As companies chase moneyed consumers, their own operational makeup will change too, according to David Hunt, CEO of the $1.4 trillion investment firm PGIM. “Businesses across the globe have been shedding the assets that have historically defined them — factories, machinery, regional offices teeming with people,” he told LinkedIn News. Going forward, companies will increasingly invest in intellectual property, software, online platforms, proprietary data and algorithms — whatever it takes to track and meet the customer of the future where they are. LinkedIn data show that hiring for executives tasked with finding those consumers, such as chief growth officers and chief revenue officers, is on the rise. — Devin Banerjee
In 2020, companies promised racial equity. In 2021, they will be held accountable.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in May, executives across corporate America came out en masse with pledges to rid their organizations of systemic racism. Next year, customers and employees will demand they live up to the promises they made. Some 60% of Americans say they expect brands to take a stand on racism and nine out of ten employees globally believe companies should engage in diversity and inclusion initiatives.
“With a turning tide nationally on racial equity, Corporate America will begin to match diversity, equity and inclusion commitments with a comprehensive approach that holds themselves accountable for progress like they do in every other aspect of their business,” said John Rice, who is CEO of the nonprofit Management Leadership for Tomorrow. “We will redefine what ‘good’ looks like for racial equity in the workplace.”
Next year, we will find out which corporations are taking the issue seriously — versus just issuing statements. One thing will be true for everyone: Businesses will continue to feel pressure from stakeholders to not only make their organizations more diverse, but to also make clear, measurable progress toward equity. Even companies like Coinbase — which took a stance against addressing politics and broader societal issues at work — are being held accountable by employees to create inclusive teams. Meanwhile, NASDAQ is proposing a rule that would require the more than 3,000 companies listed on the exchange to have at least one female board member and one who self-identifies as either an underrepresented minority or LGBTQ. — Caroline Fairchild
Brexit will be complete – but negotiations will never end
Though the UK officially left the European Union on January 31 of this year, 2021 is when the reality of Brexit will truly sink in. On December 31, the transition period will end and Britain will no longer be part of the EU customs union and single market. Even with a trade deal in place – one is still being negotiated – there will be disruptions and delays simply because “trade will be more difficult,” says Anand Menon, director of UK In A Changing Europe, an independent research initiative. Expect lines of trucks at borders and harried British travelers at European airports as they make their way through the “non EU” queues. The initial economic impact won’t be as obvious in a pandemic-hit economy – but investment decisions will be put on hold and UK-based companies that rely on frictionless trade may start packing their bags. Over the medium term, the macroeconomic impact of Brexit on the UK is set to be bigger than COVID-19, says Menon.
And we’re just getting started. Since trade is the only issue currently on the negotiating table, 2021 will be just the beginning of “an almost constant process of negotiation,” says Pepijn Bergsen of Chatham House, with relations on areas such as financial services yet to be agreed. But the ongoing relationship will be characterized by “constant friction, tension and litigation,” says Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group. “The British government will want to do things differently and challenge any perception of being a de facto member of the EU.” — Siobhan Morrin
Streaming will eat — then transform — the movies
It’s been a devastating year for movie theaters, as many were forced to shut their doors amid the pandemic. But things have been particularly sunny for the streaming business, which became just about the only game in town for Hollywood — and viewers — this year. Studios released highly anticipated movies like Disney’s Mulan straight to streaming. Warner Bros. shook the industry in December when it announced it would release all of its 2021 films on streaming service HBO Max and in theaters simultaneously.
When the COVID-19 crisis subsides, can movie houses find their way back to consumers’ hearts and wallets? Yes, but it’s going to require a few adjustments.
Better food and less sticky floors likely won’t cut it. “What can a theater offer that you can’t get in your living room? Other people,” says NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway. “Comedies are funnier, thrillers are more suspenseful, and horror movies are scarier in a crowd. Theaters need to reimagine themselves as gathering places, as social spaces. A new Marvel movie is an event that can support costume contests [and] marathon viewings of earlier movies.”
Expect the streaming players to muscle in. “Someone will need to provide the capital for theaters to make it through the pandemic and invest in the future of the industry,” Galloway says. “Amazon’s rumored interest in AMC is interesting. They could roll theater attendance into Prime, for example, and give customers the chance to see new releases first in theaters.” — Callie Schweitzer
The remote classroom will get a much-needed upgrade
One of 2020’s biggest frustrations involved the upheavals associated with abruptly halting in-person K-12 and college education, in favor of moving everything to remote learning. Instructors struggled to master video tools built for adults in business settings. Class attendance dwindled. Even students who did show up often felt disconnected.
There must be a better way, say Stanford computer science professor Daphne Koller and her husband, tech entrepreneur Dan Avida. Both helped build Coursera, a giant, college-level online learning platform. Now they’re back with another ed-tech startup, Engageli, which is building an interactive teaching system that’s designed to meet schools’ unique needs.
One key idea: making it easy for students to “sit” together at tables of two to eight learners, while an instructor’s lesson unfolds. Students can confer with table-mates without being heard by the larger group. Meanwhile, the instructor can explain things to all the tables at once, while still being able to visit specific tables to make sure everything is on track. Avida says educators prefer this model to the rigid constraints of other vendors’ breakout rooms, which were built to suit corporate needs.
Meanwhile, leading business-video players such as Zoom, Cisco’s WebEx, and Microsoft Teams are likely to move quickly to address the needs of the education market in 2021, too. (Microsoft also owns LinkedIn.) But Avida says Engageli has been filing lots of patents to protect its ideas, adding that its single-minded focus on education may help it move faster than other rivals for whom education is only a niche market. — George Anders
We will alter the blueprint of cities…
The pandemic will change the face of cities, remodeling them in ways that will make urban life more sustainable. Mayors from all over the world have put the launch of “15-minute cities” at the heart of their recovery plans. The main idea? City dwellers should have everything they need (work, bars, restaurants, shops, schools, healthcare, leisure) within a 15-minute trip — on foot or bike — from home. Lockdowns gave working from home proof of concept, challenging the notion that cities need to be divided into separate areas for working and living. And many city dwellers experienced life with fewer cars and more bikes on streets. Now, the genie is out of the bottle. Next year, we will see pop-up bicycle lanes and other temporary infrastructure changes implemented to improve city life amid the pandemic become permanent, as formerly niche ideas like Barcelona’s “superblocks” go mainstream. “What I expect is that a new work philosophy will merge with ideas of smart cities. Companies will have smaller workspaces to meet all over the city, closer to people’s homes,” says Frederik Anseel, professor of management at the University of New South Wales. This will turn the traditional idea of the city — one where smaller communities form around one, central hub — on its head. “Big cities like Paris, London and Sydney could become vast urban areas made up of several smaller communities, each with their own center,” asserts Anseel. “And since there will be less concentration in one central area, property prices will have to adjust accordingly.” — Pieter Cranenbroek
…and start planning refuge cities to escape climate change
Over the past year, the world has been fixated on the pandemic and its effects on our lives, and for good reason. But an even bigger threat could change the way we live in a less rapid but more permanent way: climate change. Global warming has already forced an estimated 20 million people to flee their homes every year. Rising temperatures combined with population growth means three billion people — one third of the projected global population — could be living in “unlivable” conditions by 2070. The inevitable result will be mass migration to “climate havens”, or cities sheltered from extreme weather with the capacity to grow. Preparing for this future can no longer be put off, and heads of state, members of the scientific community, the private sector, NGOs and youth groups will meet to discuss the issue at the world’s first Climate Adaptation Summit in January 2021. As cities around the globe develop climate action plans, expect to see more zero-carbon housing projects and green belts replacing asphalt. “The questions we should be asking is how to protect the most vulnerable residents,” says Greg Lindsay, director of applied research at nonprofit NewCities Foundation. “How to develop new carrot-and-stick approaches to steer people away from the highest-risk areas.”— Pieter Cranenbroek
China will grab the spotlight in 2021
China had a blockbuster 2020. Despite a global pandemic originating on its shores, the nation’s economy quickly rebounded, growing by 4.3% in the third quarter of this year, its citizens are living a largely normal life thanks to strict lockdowns that stopped the virus’ spread and it joined one of the world’s largest trading pacts. The United States and Europe, meanwhile, are setting themselves up to spend 2021 containing waves of infections that have brought large portions of their economies to a standstill.
All of this puts China in a prime position to secure a spot as the world’s dominant superpower for years to come. But winning hearts and minds isn’t likely to come with that success.
For years, China has used its economic might as a bargaining chip to gain access to new markets or to quiet criticism over human rights violations against its Uighur minority population. While companies have much to lose should China close its borders to them, government leaders are loath to cede more influence to a country that has displayed a zero-sum approach to diplomatic relations. Indeed, negative sentiment toward China is on the rise in Australia, Germany, the U.S., South Korea and Canada, among others, according to a Pew Research Center survey. “China is going to be ahead of everyone economically, however, its global reputation is not going to improve,” said James McGregor, China chair of public affairs firm APCO Worldwide. “The [Chinese Communist] Party leadership seems to have decided that if China can’t be loved, it might as well be feared.”
The U.S. State Department has developed a blueprint for containing China’s sphere of influence, but the incoming Biden administration will have other immediate priorities; namely, curbing a pandemic-fueled economic crisis and distributing a much-needed vaccine. China will likely use that distraction to amass more influence, but it may find a less receptive global community. — Jordyn Dahl
The travel industry will go the way of Netflix
The pandemic wreaked havoc on the travel industry in 2020. International travel all but halted for many countries. Airlines have filed for bankruptcy protection. Traditional tourist hotspots have become coldspots. The travel industry has been forced to rip up big chunks of its playbook and start fresh.
One idea gaining traction? Travel subscriptions. Costco has partnered with WheelsUp to offer a yearly private jet subscription for US$17,499.99. Tripadvisor is launching a yearly subscription service called Tripadvisor Plus for US$99, which offers access to travel deals and other perks. And some airlines have begun experimenting with travel subscriptions as well, where they offer fixed rate flights in exchange for a secure, continuous source of revenue.
“In Southeast Asia, we’ve already seen airlines testing the waters with this concept,” says Hannah Pearson, founder of Kuala Lumpur-based travel consulting company Pear Anderson. “AirAsia launched its Unlimited Pass for domestic flights in Malaysia earlier this year — and given that they’ve now rolled it out in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, we can deduce that it has been a success.”
Another area Pearson could see taking off? Subscription work-ations, where “hotel chains [offer] flexible bookings and benefits for customers to stay and work out of any of their hotels across the country.” We are starting to this crop up in countries like Singapore, where hotels are now offering specific work packages. — Chris Anderson
Pandemic prevention will stretch far beyond medicine
The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear that our health is inextricably tied to larger environmental issues. Increased population density, global travel, deforestation, large-scale farming and melting of the permafrost has disrupted animal habitats, bringing them in closer contact to humans. This has raised the risk of more frequent zoonotic disease outbreaks, and therefore a higher potential for another pandemic.
Last century, there were only a handful of diseases linked to animals. But those numbers have accelerated in the last decade. Now, they’re averaging every two years, said Greg Martin, a public health specialist at Health Service Executive, listing Ebola, Zika, SARS, MERS and swine flu as recent examples. Not all zoonotic outbreaks lead to pandemics. But “if we are rolling the dice that often, you’re going to get a set of double sixes,” Martin said. “We’re playing the odds.”
“A vaccine will help to end the pandemic, but it won’t address the vulnerabilities that lie at its root,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization. “There’s no vaccine for poverty, hunger, climate change or inequality.”
The pandemic has also shown that health is a matter of racial justice and inequality as well, with the crisis posing a disproportionate impact on communities that are Black, indigenous and people of color. This has pushed health care providers and governments to tackle the socio-economic factors that influence who gets sick and who recovers.
“COVID-19 has laid bare our public health system,” said Rich Roth, chief strategic innovation officer at CommonSpirit Health, one of the largest health care providers in the U.S. “It’s put a spotlight on the frailties within the system.” — Beth Kutscher
New building methods will absorb – rather than emit – CO2
In 2017, the United Nations calculated that buildings, construction methods and their power sources account for 39% of the world’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. That’s an alarming number, says Kate Simonen, chair of the University of Washington’s architecture department and executive director of the university’s Carbon Leadership forum. But she is optimistic about ways to lighten the environmental load – and shrink that percentage.
Low carbon-impact versions of materials from steel to carpet are available on the market today, she points out. Carbon-rich agricultural waste such as straw can be used as wall panels and cabinetry. Another option: enlisting bacteria to build new variants of concrete. Large-scale commercialization of such green bricks and blocks (they really are green) could be years away, Simonen says, but lab projects have shown that the underlying biological processes work well. As a first step in 2021, she predicts that at least one more U.S. state will join California in adopting standards for evaluating the embodied carbon impact of larger building projects. — George Anders
Millennials will remake investing in their own image
Wall Street was built for your parents and grandparents: back-and-forth phone conversations; reams of paper statements and records; and a world view that shareholder returns trump all other considerations.
Millennials are about to change all of that — and remake the finance sector along the way. Four major trends, recently highlighted by The Economist, are accelerating to drive this changing of the guard:
- Millennials — born between 1981 and 1996 — are about to enter the peak earning years of their careers. As they climb the corporate ladder and replace retiring baby boomers, their earning power will jump by almost 75% this decade, according to Bank of America research.
- Boomers are not only retiring; they’re dying as well. The flow of inheritance money to younger generations is poised to double in pace by next decade, according to research firm Cerulli Associates.
- Technology is ever more front and center in millennials’ daily lives. When it comes to investing, “a generation reared on smartphones is as likely to trust an app as a well-heeled broker,” according to The Economist.
- Younger generations want more than just a financial return when they invest. Morgan Stanley research finds that those under 35 are twice as likely to sell a stock if they consider a company to be environmentally or socially unsustainable. “I strongly believe that a focus on environmental, social and governance factors is here to stay,” Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at the $1.2 trillion asset manager Invesco, told LinkedIn News.
The investment industry will be forced to adapt in order to follow the money. That means mergers and acquisitions, fintech partnerships, an influx of tech-minded talent and, according to Hooper, “faster, more responsive product innovation.” — Devin Banerjee
Expect a Big Tech regulatory reckoning
After years of going in circles, Washington is poised to come together as a united force — or at least a not-entirely-divided force — to get tough on tech. One prime target for U.S. officials? Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives tech companies broad authority to decide how to moderate content on their platforms and shields them from liability for what users post.
Republicans are concerned tech companies have too much power over which voices are featured. Democrats worry 230 allows misinformation to run rampant on platforms without consequence. In technology advisor Bruce Reed, U.S. president-elect Joe Biden has chosen a fierce 230 opponent to guide his administration’s thinking on tech regulation. Reed helped draw up strict privacy legislation for California and has spoken out publicly against 230, writing that it is “an enemy of children” and encourages hate and abuse. Any change to the 26-word statute will alter the internet as we know it.
Meanwhile, activists in the U.S. are calling for a National Commission on Technology and Democracy to make concrete recommendations to Congress and regulators for other ways to rein in Big Tech. These discussions will guide change made through agencies like the Federal Trade Commission, which could propose an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, and the Department of Justice, which has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google. They are joined by state attorneys general across the U.S., who are investigating at least one of the Big Tech companies. With the global reach of every one of the Big Tech firms, all of this is being watched carefully abroad, from Singapore to the European Union, which is moving even more aggressively to regulate tech on its own. — Jessi Hempel
We will dive even deeper into virtual worlds
2020 will be marked as the year many of us went virtual by necessity, as social distancing forced millions into remote working, learning and social arrangements. Expect 2021 to take things up a notch, with continued growth and acceptance of digital worlds as viable replacements for in-person experiences and connections. Companies like Epic, with their massively popular video game Fortnite, as well as the immersive experience engine Unreal, will bring large-scale social events like concerts and esports into the virtual world via augmented reality tech. And collaborative gaming and programming environments like Roblox will bring together communities looking for social connection in a COVID-19 environment.
We can expect the growth and maturity of virtual environments to influence economic activity as well. Blockchain-based digital assets will gain steam, encouraging the increased adoption of decentralized financial markets for payments and trade. Augmented and virtual reality hardware will also gain wider adoption, especially as Apple moves closer to releasing its own AR glasses. And financial transactions will be woven into these hardware systems, changing the nature of banking and consumer expectations. — Lex Sokolin, global fin-tech co-head at ConsenSys and author of The Fintech Blueprint newsletter
The pandemic will unleash a new wave of entrepreneurs
Last decade’s Great Recession set off a wave of entrepreneurialism, as high unemployment encouraged would-be business owners to pursue their great idea rather than rely on a turbulent job market. Silicon Valley spawned juggernauts like Slack, Uber and Airbnb in the wake of that downturn. We can expect the same when the dust settles from this crisis.
While the pandemic has devastated local economies around the world and put millions out of work, it will set off an entrepreneurial renaissance. “We will start to see more people step off the corporate ladder and start their own businesses. Maybe at an accelerated rate like we have not seen before,” said Lucy Chow, a senator representing the UAE at the World Business Angels Investment Forum.
The shift from employee to entrepreneur has already begun. With scores of restaurants and retailers permanently shuttered without a viable comeback, frontline workers are launching traveling hair salons and virtual workout classes. New business applications, which would-be entrepreneurs must file for tax purposes, have skyrocketed, growing 38% year-over-year as of mid-November, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
This entrepreneurial spike may be largely isolated to countries that did not offer robust economic stimulus programs to keep workers employed. In Europe, where governments have helped companies offset costs while workers stayed home, the unemployment rate is far lower than in the U.S. Those economies have not seen the same dramatic uptick in new business formation. — Jordyn Dahl