Five top technology trends from 2021 that are here to stay

Penny is a writer and editor for Ericsson. Her background is in media and communications. Technology and its impact on society is an area she’s followed since her days in Brighton in the UK, where she worked on events like TEDx and Brighton Digital Festival.

The past 18 months have been full of unexpected technological advances, as the whole world shifted to meet the demands of a new reality. But are these innovations just a product of the pandemic or here to stay? Here are five technology trends that experts believe won’t disappear with lockdowns.

Back in 2018, Erik Ekudden, Ericsson Senior Vice President and Group CTO listed ‘the realization of zero touch’ as his number one future tech trend to watch. Little did we know just how true his words would prove to be – though not quite in the way he may have thought. The global pandemic forced people and businesses alike to rapidly adapt to a new reality. One that overwhelmed health systems and perhaps most importantly, isolated us from normal life.

But over the past year we’ve also seen technological innovation step up to fill these voids.

Advances in fields such as artificial intelligencee-commerce and the Internet of Things were already well established on the tech trends radar. What we didn’t expect was that fields such as education and healthcare, among the most conservative in the adoption of new technology, would suddenly take center stage – and progress in a matter of months in ways that would usually take years. Of course, we’ve understood the importance of digital connectivity for decades. But we never predicted it would become the center point for our everyday lives almost overnight.

Today as vaccines roll out and many of us eagerly await the return of hugs and gossip over the office watercooler, I wonder – which of these new technologies will stand the test of time? Here are five of the top technology trends from 2021 that experts believe are likely to stick around for years to come. 

Trend 1 – Digital workplaces

By the end of June 2020, 42 percent of the United States labor force was working from home full-time. While we scrambled to find the best ways to work remotely, collaboration software boomed. In 2020, the global video conferencing market reached USD7.87 billion – more than double the previous year.

In general, employees have responded positively to the convenience of ‘WFH life’, but employers are also noticing the benefits – lower office rental and upkeep costs, for example. According to our Future of Enterprises report, 60 percent of decision makers are very satisfied with the ability to cut down on office space, with 43 percent strongly believing they will have no office at all by 2030. Early indications also show remote workers are up to 40 percent more productive than their in-office counterparts.

Step into my (virtual) office

According to the global survey featured in our IndustryLab report exploring the dematerialized office and insights into the 2030 future workplace, half of respondents indicated they would want a full-sense virtual presence at work from anywhere. Imagine digital workspaces where you can wave to your colleague across the room, hand over an important document or even share coffee and cake (complete with tempting digital aromas and tastes) without even leaving home – or even a favorite getaway location.

With many of the tech giants out there, including Twitter and Facebook, announcing their plans for more permanent working from home arrangements post-COVID, it’s generally agreed that the future of work is remote, and that ‘business as usual’ will never be as it once was.

Trend 2 – Online learning

Digital workspaces and dematerialization won’t just benefit those in the workforce. At the peak of the COVID pandemic, over 1.6 billion children in 195 countries around the globe were sent home as classrooms closed.

As well as video conferencing tools, other digital services such as language learning apps, virtual tutoring and e-learning software have all seen huge surges in demand. At the same time, initiatives like Keep America Running have shown just how quickly our society can connect – both digitally and empathetically – for a common cause, like giving more students without an internet connection access to remote learning and narrowing the educational divide.

With quality education key to both the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Human Development Index (HDI), there’s no question that education must be well-resourced and accessible to all.

According to OECD, 95 percent of students in Switzerland, Norway, and Austria have a computer to use for their schoolwork, compared to only 34 percent in Indonesia. And in the US, virtually all 15-year-olds from a privileged background said they had a computer to work on, while nearly a quarter of those from disadvantaged backgrounds did not.

As we continue the important work to improve educational opportunities through technology, we need to ensure we’re reducing, and not contributing to, inequality in education.

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