Trends can be fleeting or become business as usual.
From the gig economy to the rise of Gen Zers in the workplace, these current small business trends are only going to continue to grow. — Getty Images/VioletaStoimenova

The way we work has changed dramatically over the last year. While you may have started 2020 with a specific goal in mind, the pandemic has forced merchants of all sizes to be nimble, flexible and adaptable.

Many of the adjustments that merchants made in response to the emergency were short-term solutions. But sometimes micro-trends turn into macro-trends. When that happens, it’s time to take notice and figure out how your business is going to respond.

Here’s what you need to know about six trends that will impact businesses in 2021 and beyond.

[Read more: 2020 Trends May Inspire New Business Ideas]

Hiring Gen Z employees

Generation Z is the term that defines those born between 1995 and 2015. These individuals make up one of the largest consumer groups despite the fact that some Gen Zers are younger than age 10. And they’re starting to enter and impact the labor market in new ways.

Gen Z will likely make up a big portion of your workforce in the near future––and small businesses should consider how to retool their work culture and benefits accordingly. These digital natives expect their work to mean something. One in four Gen Zers volunteers in their spare time. Small business owners can tap into that desire for impact by communicating your “why.” Why did you start this business? What drove you to become an expert in your field? Show your passion for serving customers and participating in your community when recruiting Gen Z employees. Provide the opportunity for these individuals to connect with customers and take initiative to work on something that has a deeper impact.

Flexible work arrangements

Flex work—broadly defined as any departure from the standard nine-to-five office routine—encompasses everything from remote work to flexible hours to job sharing.

In a tight labor market, offering flexible schedules can result in better hires and happier employees. According to ManpowerGroup Solutions, 40% of all applicants rate job flexibility near the top of their wish lists.

Remote work is the most obvious manifestation of flex work. Due to social distancing restrictions, remote work has become the new normal. There’s evidence to show that remote workers are more happy, motivated and productive. As a result, there’s little incentive for companies to return to the office environment. Facilitated by advances in technology and collaboration tools like Slack and Trello, the geography of the workplace will continue to evolve.

[Read more: 10 Forward-Looking Companies Offering Flexible Work]

Offering mental health benefits

It’s been a stressful year. The silver lining, if there is one, is that 2020 has been stressful for everyone; as a result, companies are newly aware that they need to provide mental health resources for their employees. When left unaddressed, stress can escalate to emotional, mental and physical exhaustion—not to mention anxiety and depression.

What’s bad for employees is bad for business, and employers are seeking ways to deal with burnout in the workplace. Meditation, yoga and mid-week time off are among the diverse strategies being employed to combat this 21st-century problem. Some companies are offering subscriptions to apps like Ginger, Talkspace or Headspace, which provide meditation courses and real-time, on-demand behavior coaching.

If your employees can provide thoughtful, caring assistance to your customers and the community, you’ll reap the benefits in no time.

The continuing rise of the gig economy

The trend toward gig work—freelancing and independent contracting—rather than full-time employment has its roots in the financial crisis of 2008. While fluid definitions and reporting gaps make it difficult to know the exact number of gig workers, Gallup estimated them in early 2019 to be 36% of all U.S. workers.

Many people were laid off during 2020, while others were moved to shift scheduling to account for distancing restrictions. Gigs allow workers to supplement existing work or to earn a paycheck while searching fora full-time position. It gives businesses more flexibility to scale their workforce as needed. And, at least in theory, skilled workers can name their own price.

Apps like Rover, HelloTech and TaskRabbit are connecting dog walkers, tech geeks and furniture movers, respectively, with people willing to pay to get these things done. With convenience like that, the gig economy is not going away anytime soon. In fact, according to CNBC, by 2027, gig workers will outnumber traditional employees.

Emotionally intelligent customer service

Great customer service has always been crucial for long-term business success. However, kindness and goodwill are more highly valued by consumers than ever.

Customer service is no longer limited to customer feedback on platforms like Yelp and Facebook. Small businesses can be proactive in the way they show goodwill toward their customers. A survey from Forrester found that 93% of consumers say they’d buy more from—and recommend to others—a business that showed empathy toward the community.

Not only do consumers expect great service even when there isn’t an issue, they also expect the businesses they frequent to offer personalized service. “People today do not want to be bombarded with too many options and prefer a personal touch instead, expecting more businesses to know precisely what they want,” said Wix. If your employees can provide thoughtful, caring assistance to your customers and the community, you’ll reap the benefits in no time.

Increased focus on training and upskilling

Between the pandemic and the entrance of Gen Z into the workforce, the demand for new training opportunities has never been higher. Employees will seek opportunities to learn a new platform, technology or area of expertise. Training can also be a good retention tool. Harvard Business Review found that investing in your employees can increase loyalty, motivation and longevity with your business. It’s a win-win for your business, too. “[Enhancing] your employees’ capabilities can only prove beneficial for your business as it improves productivity while enhancing personal development,” wrote one expert.

The way we work has changed indefinitely, and small business owners can start to make strategic adjustments to help employees grow accordingly.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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