5 major forces that will disrupt business in 2021

07 January 2021 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read

On the back of a tumultuous 2020, the New Year looks to be just as disruptive, if not more so. According to consultancy Re_Set, businesses need to adapt on five key fronts if they are to survive and thrive in the coming 12 months.

A great deal of uncertainty surrounds the future of the UK and the global economy in the coming year. With Brexit finally concluding, and British companies still looking to maintain productivity levels with staff working remotely, the slow roll out of a vaccine and potentially dangerous new variants of Covid-19 could create a perfect storm. As well as challenges, there will be opportunities in the coming months, however.

UK consultancy Re_Set has announced a five-point guide to its expectations for the coming year, in a bid to help clients prepare to adapt to the challenges and trends of the next 12 months.

The 5 forces of disruption

Commenting on the release, James Bidwell, co-founder of the consultancy, said, “Our perspective that encourages leaders across all walks of life to harness the emerging forces of disruption to create a better future… Our thesis is that disruption can be, and indeed is, a competitive advantage, whatever your trade. Understanding and responding in the right way to the major forces of disruption will also build resilience into your organisation, people and business model.”

Activist brands

“Our first force is the rise of the activist brand,” explained Bidwell, “a genre created by my all-time favourite businessperson, Yvon Chouinard, and his brand Patagonia. This business has made a virtue and huge commercial success from its proactive, activist stance on the environment.”

Purpose has become an increasingly important part of brand identity in recent years. While more conservative consumers among the Baby Boomer and Generation X demographics are still primarily interested in value for money, younger shoppers have a greater concern for the impact their purchases have. Among Generation Z, for example, 87% expect more from their favourite brands than just products. Illustrating the potential for this kind of activist branding, fashion retailer Patagonia enjoyed a spike in sales following the launch of a voting rights campaign during and the use of clothing tags that read: “Vote the a******s out.”

Digital acceleration

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated a change that was already well underway. Overnight, the digital transformations that were previously optional became essential. Looking ahead, Re_Set believes that digital engagement will become the number one driver of customer value in 2021, with many global organisations launching data, artificial intelligence and software-driven divisions “dedicated to launching disruptive products.”

Bidwell added, “This year we have moved forward ten years in 9 months and that is not slowing down anytime soon. Innovations taking advantage of the extraordinary acceleration of digital penetration and adoption [are key to growth].”


“Sustainability and protecting our biodiversity is now mission-critical, with the issues around climate change, carbon, and human impact on the natural world, both land and sea, now at the top of the agenda. At Re_Set every project has a sustainability thread and indeed it is more often than not the project,” Bidwell commented.

From a business perspective, as a result of this trend, ecological credentials are also fast becoming a must-have, rather than a nice-to-have. Re_Set pointed toward research from Big Four firm PwC, which claimed that UK B Corps (businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance) reported average revenue growth of 14% year-on-year since 2015, while another study suggested such companies were 63% more likely to survive the last financial crisis.

Workplace change

Perhaps most immediately, firms have to reckon with the challenges to traditional work which 2020 and 2021 have posed. On top of facilitating remote work, many businesses plan to reduce office sizes and offer more flexible working arrangements to help deal with financial pressures, while maintaining some office space for collaboration. However, beyond this, attracting staff in the future will also depend on businesses demonstrating strengthened health and wellness offerings, along with flexible working.

According to Re_Set, the drive to flexible working could also lead to a more inclusive workplace. By opening up to remote workers, businesses could unlock a much wider pool of potential employees – as workers would no longer need to move cities or countries, parents could organise their work around child care, instead of the other way around, and innovative tools.

Shifting strategies

As had already become clear during the age of digital disruption, agility is essential for the survival of a business. The pandemic has further hammered home this point, with flexible long-term strategies for dealing with change having been shown as extremely important. Re-Set noted that since March, a reported 92% of small businesses in the United States have decided to alter their business models, while 82% of business leaders reported the current crisis had made them realise the importance of innovation in their business; and 78% now believe that this could be an extraordinary opportunity – if approached correctly.

“The age of the five-year plan being agreed and moving to execution is over, Bidwell concluded. “Covid-19 has been a testbed for our leaders and those who have fared best have adopted principles of agility and flexibility enabling them to pivot their organisations to take advantage of the shifting sands.”