Hybrid working, growth in digital and logistics, and a shift to town centre living.
Those are among the many predictions from North West business leaders of the key trends set to emerge in 2021, which will follow on from what has been one of the most unpredictable years of many people’s lives.
To conclude 2020 and look ahead to what many hope will be a better 2021, BusinessLive asked leaders from a variety of sectors across the region how they see the next year panning out.
Here is what 15 of those who responded told us:
Mark Sellers, managing director at TalkTalk Business
“Business leaders must adapt their thinking to enable a permanent shift towards hybrid working – a mix between remote and office work – in 2021. This will require leaders to communicate with even greater certainty and clarity. Ensuring that all employees have the key enablers of the ‘new normal’ in place, including reliable connectivity and remote working technology, will be crucial.
“We will see offices evolve and become sanctuaries that enable employees to escape from the virtual space and revitalise, while investment in virtual spaces that allow employees to be open about their wellbeing and career needs will become increasingly important.”
Caroline Baker, head of North and Manchester Office, Cushman & Wakefield
“2020 has demonstrated that our recent technological investment really did allow us to work seamlessly from any environment (including for some our bedrooms or sofas). However it has definitely demonstrated that much of our passion for the industry is driven by the energy we get from meeting our clients, colleagues and contemporaries.
“Going forward I see much more demarcation about where we do business being linked to what we are doing. Flexibility will be key and ensuring we offer the right technology and office floorspace to respond to the task in hand – be that report writing from home, brainstorming a new project with a client in a meeting room or developing our talent in flexible space. Where we work will change but our office in Manchester City Centre, will remain the heart of the business #UnitedCity.”
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Adam Higgins, co-founder Capital & Centric
“2021 will be the year that more people start living in town centres. Even before COVID hit we were looking at the potential for challenger towns, like Stockport, Rochdale and Bolton, to provide a real alternative to city centre living.
“This isn’t about a cheaper alternative to the city suburbs, these places can create something really special with high quality homes, workspaces, café-bars and delis, and outdoor spaces, where people will be clamouring to live. In doing this we can repurpose the high street and breathe life back into these retail quarters and other under-used town centre sites.”
Dr Natalie Kenny, CEO of BioGrad
“2020 was the year of the scientist and for the first time in decades scientists have started to receive the recognition that they reserve. With Brexit on the horizon and laboratories expanding due to the Covid pandemic, I can see plenty of great job opportunities for homegrown scientists in the 12 months to come.
“The country’s economy has been decimated since March, with lockdowns and restrictions causing high unemployment rates and plenty of doom and gloom. However, I can look ahead to 2021 with a more optimistic viewpoint, as I predict quicker antigen tests, combined with a portfolio of vaccines helping life return to some form of normality by next Spring.
“Pre-flight PCR testing has helped to get the aviation industry back on its feet, but there is of course so much more that needs to be done in order for people to travel freely around the world and speaking personally for BioGrad, we are doing all we can behind the scenes to ensure that people will be able to travel abroad with peace of mind, as long as restrictions and flight requirements are kept in place.”
Carl Ennis, chief executive of Siemens GB and chair of Net Zero North West
“2021 is going to be the year when the green industrial revolution takes hold. This will not only protect the planet, ensuring we build back greener, but has the potential to drive the post-COVID economic recovery.
“At Net Zero North West we’re rising to the challenge to be the first low carbon industrial cluster by 2030 and we have the opportunity to become world leaders.
“With 250,000 jobs up for grabs, including more than 33,000 in the North West, we need to grasp this opportunity and act now.”
Subrahmaniam Krishnan-Harihara, head of research at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce
“The local and national economies have seen a fundamental restructuring of the economy – sectors such as retail and hospitality have been dramatically affected.
“In 2021, sectors such as digital and logistics will grow. The demand for skills in these growth sectors will be the prominent challenge in a post-Covid and post-Brexit, and I hope to see a lot of investment in upskilling and reskilling programmes.”
Frank Ofonagoro, director at business advisory firm Quantuma
“The ongoing roll out of a Covid-19 vaccine suggests that the pandemic might be overcome by mid-2021, which should in theory allow the economy to resume normal operations and drive high GDP growth by Q3 and Q4.
“However, we cannot escape or ignore the impact of the inevitable withdrawal of Government support measures, such as the furlough scheme, will have on the region’s business community, despite its many efforts to bounce back. Given the effect of Covid-19 in accelerating the demise of many non-online businesses, the withdrawal of Government support will likely lead to significant redundancies and recessionary pressures in 2021.”
Bill Addy, chief executive of Liverpool BID Company
“Our hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit by this pandemic and without the support and enthusiasm for Liverpool Without Walls, it could have been much worse. Our public spaces are a vital part of our city, and became increasingly so in the summer as we worked to rebuild the economy after the national lockdown.
“Making the city work for our businesses, but also making the public realm attractive and engaging for our visitors and diners is incredibly important. This project will likely have a long lasting impact and illustrates how life-changing it is when our businesses and city partners come together to benefit us all.”
Stephen Church, EY’s Managing Partner for Manchester
“2020 has undoubtedly been tough for North West businesses but as Benjamin Franklin said, ‘out of adversity comes opportunity’, and it has also seen many take huge leaps in technology adoption and development out of necessity, forcing investment that will help to secure their survival in 2021 and beyond.
“By choice or by necessity, a new wave of entrepreneurs was created during lockdown. These North West start-ups will provide the green shoots of our region’s post-Covid recovery, creating employment through 2021, with a renewed focus on business purpose and how they can build a better working world.”
Mark Davenport, MD of AMC
“I’m expecting 2021 to be affected mainly by the aftermath of Brexit, and the ongoing saga of Covid-19 (this at least in the first quarter). I believe the Government will do all they can to get us a deal, as it is in their best interests after campaigning for it for so long.
“It will be a difficult time for a lot of companies as travel out of the country will be restricted, but as with Covid-19 there will still be success stories and with hard work, determination and innovation there will be opportunities to thrive, and especially in the construction industry which always bounces back after times of hardship.
“As a company that prides itself on its face-to-face communication with customers, commitment to get the job done and its on-site operations, I am also looking forward to the re-opening of society in order for us to make up for the time lost during the lockdowns of 2020, which has seen the construction industry operate at less than full capacity.
“AMC are planning ahead to catch the wave of what we expect to be a real upturn in the industry come next spring/Easter, and our investment in new equipment and in the up-skilling of our staff should hold us in good stead as we look forward to showcasing our new rebranded fleet across the country.
“The green agenda will also be massive next year and we will be working hard to ensure that our fleet is sustainable and eco-friendly. We decided to purchase 11 new electrical cranes earlier this year to improve our carbon footprint and our business, because working electrically and silently is not only a massive advantage from a Health & Safety point of view, but will also allow us to work out of hours in town centres, which will help us further support our customers.”
Prashant Sali, director of Green Bell Packaging
“Plastic waste has been a topic of conversation for some time, but I believe that in 2021 people will pay attention and invest in making changes.
“I predict that customers will start to challenge businesses when it comes to ethical practices and will begin to look for environmentally friendly solutions. We’re already beginning to see this demand from the positive response to our BioBags and plastic-free mailing bags, made with 100% plastic-free technology while having added benefits to regular plastic.
“With plastic pollution continuing to hit the headlines, we anticipate more regulations around sustainability in 2021 and companies need to be ahead of the game with their offerings.”
Paul McGlone, director of business development at Zeus Capital in Manchester
“We believe the UK market is gearing itself for a flurry of IPO activity in 2021 as it looks to make up for a challenging year of deal activity in 2020. With vaccinations for COVID-19 underway, a stabilising political environment in the US and possible Brexit agreements on the horizon, businesses that have been considering an IPO could make 2021 their year. However, deal activity will not be limited to IPOs. The strength and quality of the North West’s private equity community will drive deal volume up and support an ever growing list of exciting businesses based in the region.”
Mike Leeman, managing partner at Bell Lamb & Joynson Solicitors
“Among this year’s challenges, the pandemic has brought some issues to the foreground that business leaders need to pay attention to. In a time when organisations have been making cutbacks, a recent survey suggested that legal practices have increased their investment into technology by 61%.
“I believe that this is a trend that will continue into 2021 across a range of industries, particularly as we expect flexible and home working to remain a popular option for both businesses and their employees. Next year will be the year of the digital revolution.”
Neil Mitchell, partner at Rickitt Mitchell
“2021 will be another year of change for the region as we come to understand the long term effects of 2020’s disruption. I anticipate we will come to see further gains for some of the region’s growing sectors that have seized opportunity amidst the challenging circumstances of lockdown.
“In terms of deal making, TMT, healthcare and B2C operations with strong online infrastructure (for example home improvement and luxury goods) all look set for a strong return this year, as the market remains fundamentally bullish on anticipated deal activity, primed to deliver in 2021.”
Jonathan Murphy, CEO at Assura PLC and North West Business Leadership Team chair
“If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s not to look too far ahead and to expect the unexpected! In 2021, I hope we’ll see more of the most incredible innovation from businesses of all sizes. North West organisations have shown themselves to be so agile, creative and resilient this year, in coping with the devastating impacts of COVID-19 but also in preparing for Brexit, addressing the inequalities facing our region and the challenges and opportunities of a net zero carbon future – long may that continue.
“I also hope we’ll see even more of that sense of social and community purpose and connection which is driving business more than ever before, and I think is deepening all the time.”