This time of year, there are all sorts of top-10 prediction lists highlighting the trends shaping the 12 months in front of us. As I have been doing every year since 2014, rather than come up with a list, I am making one single half-baked prediction for what will dominate the business tech scene.
For the year ahead, 2022, the key trend will be “hybrid.” And that means hybrid everything — cloud engagements, workplace arrangements, workforces, vehicles, databases, education, commerce, and conferences. The hybridization of our world has been bubbling through for years, but the Covid crisis suddenly shifted everything to the digital side of the column. But there is still plenty of energy in the analog or physical side of things as well, and we’ll see more of that as the Covid situation recedes.
Most importantly, we are seeing the emergence of the hybrid leader — seeing people and organizations through digital transformation, while also helping colleagues learn, grow, and thrive. The hybrid leader knows how to look inward as also outward — being almost obsessively focused on delivering superior customer experience. Technology professionals and leaders are learning and adapting to speak the language of business, while business professionals and leaders are learning and adapting to understand the power of technology.
We’re becoming a hybrid world, not only out of necessity, but as a reflection of the choices available to us as well. It’s about options, and it’s about expanding one’s offerings — and horizons — to meet the needs of people and organizations in a polymorphic world. The key to moving forward in the year ahead is to be a hybrid leader — with knowledgeability in a professional or technical realm, as well as adept with broader skills such as teamwork and empathy.
Let’s break down just a few of the things being hybridized:
- Workplaces: Work from anywhere (not just home), at the time of one’s choosing.
- Workforces: Diversity will increase as global work becomes the norm. In addition, organizations will be running on hybrid teams of contractors, freelancers, and consultants.
- Partners: Companies will rely on confederations of entrepreneurs for services and supplies rendered, as well as innovators connected through platforms, adding value to products and services being brought to market.
- Work: With the rise of artificial intelligence and automation, there will be more sharing of tasks between humans and machines. AI, robots and machines will be handling the high-volume grunt work, while human work will increasingly be elevated to more as innovators and team .
- Customers: Customers will increasingly make use of multiple channels, and will be making product or services choices via more immersive experiences such as augmented reality. In addition, customers represent many different cultures and regions of the world.
- Systems: Cloud has been part of information technology for sometime now, this will only accelerate. At the same time, there are many “legacy” systems, loaded with well-through-out programming logic, that are still working just fine, thank you.
- Devices: From traditional PCs to terminals (yes, they’re still in use) to tablets and mobile phones, employees are doing their work on a range of devices, and even shifting back and forth between devices.
- Conferences and events: It started in earnest in 2021 — the coming year will be defined by hybrid experiences, with both in-person attendance as well as opening to global audiences view streaming presentations.
- Education and training: Learning opportunities are being delivered virtually, either via corporate training departments, third-party training firms, educational institutions, or web-based offerings. Managers and professionals will be building their portfolios through a hybrid learning experience that may include a university degree with follow-up coursework, over the course of their lifetimes, from many sources.
What does it take to be a hybrid leader for the coming hybrid era? To manage and succeed in the emerging hybridized world of 2022, executives and professionals need to keep their eyes and minds open for new opportunities. Today’s leaders need to be facilitators, collaborators and coaches. They need to be comfortable with tech — both for personal productivity and for enterprise advancement.
Think big: “One of my favorite aspirational quotes says, ‘the great danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but too low and achieving our mark,’” Sharma says. “Stretching our imagination and the boundaries of what we can achieve is the only way to discover what could be possible. More than ever, this is what differentiates today’s leaders and an organization’s readiness for the future.”
Keep the human touch in technology: “When done right, technology augments people and improves experiences — a service feels simple, we have access at our fingertips, interactions are consistent at every touchpoint,” says Sharma. “This starts with transforming how work gets done across people, process and technology, so that we augment people in more effective ways.”
Keep thinking critically: Applying critical thinking and problem-solving skills effectively “is predicated on having access to the right information at the right time,” says Sharma. “Think about the current supply chain disruption: carefully choreographed for efficiency, but snaps when it gets stretched beyond capacity, especially without visibility into where things are or what lies ahead.”
Recognize the power of diversity: “The goal of every leader should be to create a system that works for everyone – and extending our hand to lift up those around us that go unnoticed,” Sharma urges. “Leaders must create a culture where each and every person feels they can speak up if they see gaps – or if we’ve failed to take action in the right way. In my experience, this happens only when a person feels comfortable they can and believe in the leader’s ability to make the necessary adjustments.”