Though slow to come, better times are ahead | Opinion

2020 highlighted how critical agility is for middle market businesses, with many rapidly reinventing themselves to secure their future. While many technology and ancillary companies thrived, if your business did not fulfill a need created, or required by the pandemic, you likely had to be especially creative to stay afloat. While we are not through with 2020’s pandemic challenges, a gradual comeback is on the horizon, even as many traditional business norms may never be the same.

Here are four areas that companies need to watch in 2021:

Technology: Software and artificial intelligence will continue to revolutionize labor. Advances in virtual reality now promise equal or increased productivity from the comfort of your home office. Meanwhile, telemedicine, video conferencing, and a slew of apps with expanding capabilities exploded in usage with much faster adaptation than anticipated, but also with some obvious limits. Technology will continue to define 2021, but how much so and what will stick remains a question.

Work-from-home (WFH): Call me contrarian, but as an investment banker, I find it hard to achieve the same productivity working from home, especially when it comes to new client origination. In my view, you also lose corporate culture, camaraderie and collaboration.

However, some studies disagree, positing that productivity increases when employees work from home. For those working from home with families, the intangible benefits of spending more time with them is now evident, and they will likely lobby for WFH to continue.

For companies that can provide the option, a hybrid model seems likely, with some days spent at the business location or traveling, and others spent working from home. But keep in mind this is simply not an option for many industries.

How will the COVID vaccine rollout go? Will the vaccines be like a flu shot? Will enough people take them? Will vaccines be required yearly, and will each be as effective? Once taken, what comes next? Is it back to the office immediately, or will we ease back into reentry? How long will your immunity last?

Given our interconnectivity, these answers will have huge implications for the 2021 marketplace, but without knowing them, businesses will find it difficult to plan next moves. Flexibility will be key. In any case, the rollout’s impact likely won’t be felt until the second part of the year.

Will we even go out when it’s safe? This newly guarded approach to life has many wary of shaking hands or venturing to business functions. But your company can’t grow unless you’re hunting and securing fresh opportunities, while also developing new relationships. At some point, people will certainly break out of their silos in 2021, but how often, and what must be done to make us be and feel truly safe? Finding the right pace will prove a balancing act.

So much remains uncertain. Most of us survived 2020, albeit not unscathed, and we saw the acceleration of innovations like virtual meetings, telemedicine and WFH. Many of these changes are here to stay, and yet, even with an ambitious vaccine rollout, much business activity may look like it did in 2020, especially for the first half of 2021. There are, however, promising bright spots ahead, but much we have to watch carefully to make the best adjustments and come out on top in 2021.

James S. Cassel is co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co., LLC, an investment- banking firm with headquarters in Miami that works with middle-market companies. or via LinkedIn at

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