7 Key Business Trends to Watch in 2016

It’s always hard to predict the next big thing. Until it’s here.

But you can change with time to be relevant when the future is finally here. You may not be to wait for the next big thing but your business can respond to change and move with time and consumer expectations.

Futurists don’t always get it right. In recent times, the pace of change is so fast that they sometimes they miss the incredible advancements in consumer and business technology that have made our work faster and connected us closer than any time in history. These business trends will drive success in 2016.

1. Expect the rise in new crop of entrepreneurs and skilled professionals (the gigging trend will continue to grow)

A lot more people are now pursuing careers without restrictions. They want to live the dream — no boss, no permanent office, disposable cash and the freedom to move and work wherever they please. Location-independent entrepreneurs and freelancers are taking control of their careers. They have few commitments and a freedom of choice most can only dream about.

As of May 2015, 15.5 million people in the U.S. were self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — an increase of roughly 1 million since May 2014.

By 2020, a separate study estimates that more than 40% of the American workforce, or 60 million people, will be independent workers — freelancers, contractors, and temporary employees.

Collaborative consumption is also on the rise. Owners make money from underused assets. The sharing economy is the latest example of the internet’s value to consumers.

According to Billee Howard, Founder and Chief Engagement Officer of Brandthropologie:

“The sharing economy will continue to explode but will move away from the notion of “altruism” to profiting for the many and not the few. We will see a continued push towards sharing business ecosystems that embrace the we instead of the me and provide value and benefit to the communities they operate in as a whole. The sharing economy will also continue to identify new untapped pockets of opportunity that can benefit from sharing and also potentially serve a greater or “social” purpose.

The sharing economy has come on so quickly and powerfully that regulators and economists are still grappling to understand its impact.

New sharing economy businesses will arrive in 2016 and more opportunities to go freelance will emerge. As a result, a new crop of entrepreneurs and business professionals will lead us towards a new economy.

2. Communication will improve significantly at the workplace

Business communications has gradually shifted to mobile devices. New and emerging communications tools like slack and even new features in Microsoft Office 365 are making it a lot more easy to work and stay in touch with colleagues and team members. Businesses are now embracing text, chat, video, file sharing, and screen sharing in addition to email and phone communications at the workplace.

Business-specific web platforms will soar and small businesses will start embracing new communication and business process technologies. These trends are driving the evolution in business communications today, and they will continue to play a significant role in the years to come.

Businesses wishing to unlock the full potential of mobility, collaboration communication must master a wide range of technologies and skills to thrive. Most companies will begin to shift from heavy usage of emails to business collaboration tools that allow instant communication and sharing of business documents.

3. Automation will continue to eat jobs

Each generation, and even within a single decade, we see some jobs largely disappear, while other new ones pop up. Machines have almost completely automated much of manufacturing, for example, and they’ll automate even more soon.

According to one unpublished study, the coming wave of technological breakthroughs endangers up to 47% of total employment in the US.

In the words of Alison E. Berman of SingularityHUB;

“Technology is changing so quickly that these new skills may not be relevant by the time students enter the job market. Not only is it difficult to predict what careers will exist in the future, it is equally uncertain which technology-based skills will be viable 5 or 10 years from now, as Brett Schilke, director of impact and youth engagement at Singularity University, noted in a recent interview.”

Singularity University CEO Rob Nail explains;

“The current setup does not match the way the world has and will continue to evolve. You get your certificate or degree and then supposedly you’re done. In the world that we’ve living in today, that doesn’t work.”

Will technological innovation give us the freedom to pursue more creative, rewarding endeavours or eat most jobs completely?

“Automation will continue to transform the global workforce, but taking an active role in that process will help us reduce the damages and increase the gains”, finds Rachel Nuwer of BBC Future.

4. The importance of the connection economy will become clear to businesses

Building relationships and creating connections with customers is now more important than ever. In 2016 a lot more companies will begin to connect consumers or customers to each other. Business models of technology companies like Uber, AirBnB, Kickstarter and Facebook will become even more popular. These companies leverage consumer content and assets to scale their businesses.

Ian Altman, a contributor at Forbes explains:

“Whereas it used to be sufficient to sell a product and receive revenues, customers now seek to connect with other like-minded individuals to get the most value in the long run. The most successful conferences build communities that survive much longer than the event itself. If you want to build something that stands the test of time, you’ll connect your customers to each other and to valuable resources that extend beyond the sale.”

5. Companies will continue to embrace remote workers

For many workers, spending every day in an office is no longer a necessity. Remote jobs have opened up additional opportunities for workers because they professionals can search for jobs beyond their current location.

Many larger companies have been embracing remote workers, at least partially, including powerhouses like Apple, Amazon, Dell, Intuit and IBM. This full list of the 100 top companies with remote jobs in 2015, by FlexJobs, features businesses that offer a variety of remote work options: full-time and part-time jobs from home, occasional telecommuting, and the option to telecommute.

The remote workforce trend has seen enormous growth, this trend is likely to continue as millennials exert more influence on workplace culture and policies.

Jason Fried, author of Remote: Office Not Required notes:

“Even short commutes stab at your happiness. According to the research,* commuting is associated with an increased risk of obesity, insomnia, stress, neck and back pain, high blood pressure, and other stress-related ills such as heart attacks and depression, and even divorce. But let’s say we ignore the overwhelming evidence that commuting doesn’t do a body good. Pretend it isn’t bad for the environment either.”

As more and more employees switch to working remotely, the need for productivity and collaboration tools like Slack, Trello, Asana, DocuSign will become even more important. As with many of the pros of hiring remote workers, contractors will also be a practical option for employers looking for digitally skilled workers.

There is now less need for people to congregate in offices, and that can be beneficial for both employees and businesses.

“If you’re a creative type, freelance has long been part of the landscape in terms of employment opportunities, but it’s spilling into areas that are surprising,” says Sheryl Connelly, a Futurist for Ford Motor Company. She further noted in a post on Fast Company that C-suite executives are increasingly available for short-term gigs. Sheryl sees 2016 as a time of “inspiration, ingenuity and identity.”

6. The attention economy will be more important than ever

In today’s information-flooded world, the scarcest resource is not ideas or even talent: it’s attention says Thomas H. Davenport, author of The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business. Thomas Davenport and John Beck argue that unless companies learn to effectively capture, manage, and keep it — both internally and out in the marketplace — they’ll fall hopelessly behind.

Consumer attention is the new currency. Everything now competes for consumer attention. It can only get worse for businesses. But creative and innovative companies will untimely win the battle for consumer attention. Every single thing, big and small, competes for your attention, mindshare, focus, and engagement.

According to Tyler Becker of Social Media Week:

“The shift for businesses that want consumers’ attention is entering a “pay for their attention” world. If you can invest money, and your time, in gaining more eyeballs, it will pay off, especially if you ask yourself some vital, simple questions most consumers ask themselves:

1. Will your business save me time?
2. Will your business save me money?
3. Will your business make me a better decision-maker?
4. Will your business improve my personal status?”

7. Greater number of businesses will leverage big data

Data is everywhere. Storage, through the cloud or servers, is becoming every larger and increasingly inexpensive. This opens up a whole new world for businesses large and small alike. All industries are set to cash in from big data.

Companies are increasingly taking advantage of the consumer connection that big data can provide by analyzing information about trends and interests as well as feedback collected by big data and consumer social media use.

This trend also benefits consumers. While businesses continue to use big data to improve sales, consumers can take advantage of social media to voice their preferences. The sheer scale of big data means that there is so much more that can be looked at, dissected and analysed to better serve consumers.

It’s Your Turn

Which trend did I miss? I welcome your comments and invite you to join the conversation on business trends to watch in 2016.

The author is the founder at Alltopstartups (where he shares resources entrepreneurs need to start and grow businesses) and the curator at Postanly (a free weekly newsletter that delivers the most insightful long form posts from top publishers).