When I was a kid there was little doubt by 2020 we'd be living on Mars. Or in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The 2020s were the stuff of science fiction. Life, we imagined, would be very different.
The internet, mobile devices and artificial intelligence have changed the way we do business and the way we live our lives. And while we aren't in space suits yet, the 2020s will still bring significant changes as technology continues to develop. The businesses that plan ahead and stay in front of trends will be the ones that truly find success.
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There's no crystal ball but the changes in human behaviour as technology advances can offer clues as to how we should prepare for the decade ahead.
It's safe to say the way we work has changed a lot. More than 200 years ago the English had 7-year-olds working in cotton mills for 13-hour days. The conditions were extremely humid and dangerous. Sounds like hell on earth.
We now complain about working nine to five. Sounds silly when you compare it with the 19th century, but the reality is this structure is quickly becoming dated and we have a right to complain.
Mobile technology and the ease of connecting to the internet means you can work from almost anywhere and even video call into meetings. There are now less reasons why office workers need to be chained to their desktop computer.
I think the 2020s will represent the end of the nine to five era and modern flexibility will take over. Of course, some industries are limited with what they can realistically offer staff, but offices that stick with the old structure will quickly be left behind in the coming decade.
Just consider the thought process of a promising young graduate. Are they going to choose the company with a set, long hour structure? Or will they go with the business offering a flexible schedule that fits around their life commitments?
Ten years ago, I would have been daunted at the task of managing a team remotely. I would have said that productivity was bound to decrease.
However, as I write this today, I've got no idea where half my team is. Some may be at meetings or working from home, others may be picking their kids up from school. Smartphones, laptops and communication channels like Slack mean I can still communicate with them almost as though they're sitting beside me.
And guess what? Productivity hasn't decreased. All our deadlines are met and our work is at a high standard. On top of this, I truly believe our staff's wellbeing is at a higher level.
The online war
You may not see it, but the New Zealand business community is constantly at war with cybercriminals across the world.
Businesses are often ruined because of poor cyber security. Some fall to cyber-attacks and lose integral files necessary to keep the business running and others lose the faith of their customers after data breaches.
As we enter 2020, cybercriminals will continue to use new technologies to aid their attacks. This includes bugs powered by artificial intelligence and attacks from super quantum computers.
And don't think cybercriminals are only going after the big businesses. SMEs and one-man-bands with softer security are often the most enticing targets. Hackers set up algorithms which automatically seek out weak points.
More than ever, businesses will have to take these threats seriously and ensure their security is up for the task.
Know your place
When a New Zealand business does well, the natural expansion path goes through Australia.
However, I'm not surprised when I see companies big and small head over the ditch only to hit a roadblock.
The truth is, the Australian market isn't as similar to New Zealand as most think. In fact, I believe a lot of the time it's easy for a strong Kiwi business to expand into the UK or even parts of Asia.
In the 2020s I'd like to see more local businesses being considerate about where they focus growth. I love a bit of start-up aggression, but it must be calculated.
Keep an eye on your kids
I know of a group of kids who recently started a venture that puts my younger self to shame.
Using the internet and their laptops, they buy goods from offshore suppliers via the website Alibaba, then sell them to offshore customers via Amazon. Most of their stock never touches our shores. These kids haven't even reached secondary school!
Their example shows how a simple idea can be turned into a successful small business using the web, but only with the right knowledge. Our kids are being taught that at school. But who's teaching the older generations of Kiwi businesspeople?
So, listen to the younger generations and listen up when they talk tech, it might be the next big thing.
Afterall, there's one thing you can count on in 2020: many companies following dated methods will be left behind.
The successful businesses in the next decade will stay ahead of trends and take calculated risks.
If business owners start to feel complacent, they should remember that 10 years before Blockbuster declared bankruptcy, it turned down an offer to buy Netflix for $50 million.
The reality is many businesses in 2020 will follow the path of Blockbuster while others will take the world by storm like Netflix.
David Bell is director of business growth at Xero