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Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

Over the last year, there have been many changes in the business world, and businesses of all sizes have learned many valuable lessons. 

As the pandemic continues to shape policies, business owners are looking for ways to stay ahead of the curve. 

In this week’s Let’s Talk edition, we asked experts to share the best lessons they learned in 2021, as well as their plans for the future.

Let’s Talk.

Jill Berry, CEO and co-founder of Adatree 

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“These things are relative. You always think, “once I get through this or get done with this, then life will be easier”, but you end up growing and having different problems. You learn year to year in business, and every year is different from the last.” 

Aaron McEwan, VP Research and Advisory at Gartner

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“If your organisation is banking on a return to the office this year, you might want to think again, here’s why. If we’ve learnt any valuable lessons from 2021, it’s that exhausted workers want flexibility and the opportunity to choose their working environment. 

“According to Gartner’s Q3 Global Talent Monitor, work-life balance and location remain among the top priorities for Australians seeking a new employer and also high on the list of reasons for leaving their current one.

“It’s become vital for organisations to consider the employee experience and deliver a strategy that takes into account how employees think and feel. After all, a return to office strategy can come undone at any given time as new variants of COVID-19 continue to emerge.

“The time and effort it takes to arrange a return to office strategy could be more efficiently used to develop a more human-centric hybrid work strategy that matches the changing needs of employees and customers alike.

“Organisations who don’t heed the lessons of the last 12 months will continue to face a decline in employee productivity, low discretionary effort and ultimately face challenges attracting and retaining critical talent.”

Maria Halasz, CEO & Managing Director, Anagenics 

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“In 2021, I have developed a healthy respect for a pandemic. I started 2021 with a sigh of relief that 2020 was over. Then I realised that it is hard to run an international business when Australia is still completely closed down and the second wave of lockdown can be worse than the first. 

“Strong supplier and employee relationships have been critical in ensuring that we pulled through relatively unscathed.

“I have also underestimated the mental/emotional impact on the staff and myself. There was so much more heavy lifting all around. Ultimately it made me a better leader; coming from behind leading with compassion resulted in a stronger, more resilient organisation.” 

Ben Lipschitz, Managing Director and co-founder, FoodbyUs  

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“Never underestimate the power of culture to hold your team together during a crisis, as well as its ability to help attract new staff.”  

Jeanette Cheah, CEO and co-founder, HEX 

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“A top learning for me was to better recognise and respond to my own emotional and mental capacity – and to talk to my team about theirs. Bringing these conversations into the open can help flag potential burnout and increase empathy in the team. 

“Another top learning of mine is not to delay chasing your goals because you’re probably ready six months before you think you are.”

Dale Brett, CEO and co-founder, Fl0 

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“Balance. My co-founder Rani Adam and I launched Fl0 in March 2021, and for the first few months, I didn’t pay much attention to my work-life harmony. It was easy to forget about exercise and catching up with friends and family. Lockdown didn’t make it any easier.”

Chad Hoy Poy, National Lending Manager at WLTH

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“2021 saw many businesses continuing to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, shining a light on the need for business and technological forces to establish business models that fit changing requirements. 

“But as with all crises, there is an opportunity for optimism, learning. The biggest lesson we have learnt is the need for businesses to be agile.

“The adoption and evolution of values, behaviours, and capabilities that enable businesses and individuals to be more adaptive, creative, and resilient when dealing with complexity, uncertainty, and change leading to improved wellbeing and better outcomes. 

“Adapting quickly to what comes our way can help our business excel amidst adapting to new working conditions. By moving towards more digital means to communicate and collaborate as a team, our business can quickly transfer operations to adapt to ‘business as unusual.’ 

Here are four agility concepts that businesses can implement to respond well to the effects of the pandemic:

  1. Provide structure to prevent distraction  
  2. Stay informed and be prepared to make fast decisions
  3. Step away from perfectionism 
  4. Maintain effective communication  

Margrith Appleby, General Manager of Kaspersky Australia & New Zealand

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

A big lesson for many businesses last year was not having a robust cybersecurity strategy in place, and thinking “oh, a cyberattack will never happen to us”. 

Businesses can be attacked in various ways, from compromised emails (4,600 of these were reported last year) to ransomware or an attack through a supplier (in fact, this was the costliest cyber incident for businesses last year, according to our research). 

While budgets differ for every business, there is a lot that you can do to uphold your cybersecurity posture, which is free and cost-effective. 

For example:

  1. Ensure you’re using the latest version of your chosen operating system and enable the auto-update feature – this will keep the software up to date.
  2. Ask your suppliers to share documentation or certifications to confirm their cybersecurity posture, especially if sensitive data is involved.
  3. Educate employees on basic cybersecurity hygiene, such as not clicking on dodgy-looking links and using a strong password. If you have a dedicated IT team, encourage them to take up continuous learning opportunities, so you’re equipped to defend against more sophisticated attacks. 
  4. Adopt security solutions that can reduce your risk and help you timely detect and remediate even new and evasive threats.

Stuart Taylor, CEO & co-founder of Springfox

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“There are three key learnings from 2021: uncertainty is set to continue, check on your people, invest in resilience.

“Businesses that have successfully navigated through the endless twists and turns of the pandemic will have learned to focus on their workforce. 

“A formal resilience and wellbeing programme that encourages colleagues to get back to basics – think nourishing diet, regular exercise, consistent sleep and structured time away from work– will combat burnout, boost job satisfaction and retention, protect mental health and foster productivity.

“Your people are driving your business, so checking in with colleagues ensures you’ve got the right remote working format, good communication practices in place and are supporting colleagues who might be struggling with their workload, exhaustion or mental health concerns.

“The pandemic is far from over, which means the new year is likely to bring new obstacles. Remaining flexible, positive and keeping routines is what will help us through the next 12 months.”

Tamara Oppen, Managing Director at GoDaddy Australia

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021
Staff Dinkus portrait. Tamara Oppen – General Manager NewsLocal. Picture: John Fotiadis

“Last year was a period of reflection, and for many Aussies, that meant reassessing their career and professional lives. GoDaddy research found that 24 per cent of Aussies reported having a dream to start their own business or side hustle but were being held back by the belief that they lacked the money or expertise. 

“However, 2021 was the year that many small businesses learned that they didn’t necessarily need deep pockets, technology skills or business expertise to build a website and start an online business. 

“Instead, key traits needed were resilience, dedication and passion. As a result, business registrations with ASIC (The Australian Securities and Investments Commission) surpassed pre-pandemic levels, as thousands of Aussies turned their passion into their purpose. 

“As the pandemic continues in 2022, we expect more entrepreneurial Aussies to get their business ideas online, pursuing their passions and benefiting from the autonomy that comes from business ownership.”

Vijay Sundaram, Chief Strategy Officer at Zoho

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“In 2021, many businesses adopted technology with a short-term, survival-at-all-costs mindset, rather than a long-term, strategic approach. The biggest learning many of these businesses will take into 2022 is how much more they can gain from a ‘unified’ approach, adopting one holistic and integrated platform rather than multiple solutions from multiple technology companies. 

“Relying on numerous complex applications can provide an initial value, but it’s costly and can create business silos that hinder productivity and efficiency. On the contrary, the businesses that adopted a unified approach in 2021 are better placed to create savvy, streamlined and efficient operations that harness the immense potential of AI and automation. 

“The talent shortages that impacted many industries in 2021 will likely continue throughout 2022, but a unified approach allows businesses to optimise their employees and enhance their customer experiences. It also allows businesses to build the resilience, adaptability and innovation that was crucial in 2021 and will be equally so in the year ahead.” 

Nick Frandsen, Co-Founder at Dovetail 

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“2021 was another challenging year, and if it taught us anything, it’s that even the most thorough plans may change. This reinforced the need for businesses and startups to be agile and adaptable. 

“Last year saw the continued rise in remote working and virtual meetings as a result of ongoing lockdowns and border closures. Businesses learned that work is something you do, not somewhere you go. 

“Meetings no longer need to be face-to-face, and virtual meetings and remote working can be just as effective thanks to technology providing usefulness, ease, and convenience of remote working capabilities.

“We also learned that talent retention is key. With Australia’s tech talent shortage being intensified amid the pandemic, businesses learned that to engage and retain quality technology hires, they needed to appeal on a deeper, more culture-focused level than simply a good paycheque. 

“Offering employees other incentives like remote working beyond the pandemic, investment opportunities in the business and career development are all fundamental ways businesses can retain employees for the long term.”

Simon McDonald, Regional Vice President APJ at Optimizely 

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“With ongoing lockdowns and border closures, businesses in 2021 were once again forced to meet their consumers online. While many businesses adopted temporary digital solutions when the pandemic first hit, moving into 2021, businesses needed to leverage digital technologies to create meaningful customer journeys. 

“For example, the University of South Australia (UniSA) adopted a hybrid approach to Open Days, using digital experience platforms to personalise the information delivered to each student. 

“By meeting the demands of individual students, UniSA created an exceptional digital experience, resulting in more enrolments than in previous years. Since many organisations pivoted online, businesses needed to implement digital experience solutions to thrive competitively. 

“By actively prioritising the customer journey and reflecting these journeys digitally, organisations can meet changing customer expectations with agility.

“Businesses, like Country Road Group also met demanding consumer expectations by leveraging digital experience platforms and offering tailored and streamlined shopping experiences for each shopper. By embracing digital technologies and implementing effective solutions, businesses not only survived 2021 but thrived.”

Dave Scheine, Australian Country Manager at Podium

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“In 2021, local businesses learnt that the key to success and building strong customer relationships is tailoring their digital marketing to their audience’s needs. Today, consumers are spoilt for choice and demand convenient communication on their terms. 

“Just as SMS revolutionised the way we interact with family and friends, two-way SMS conversations did likewise for business-to-consumer interactions in 2021. Last year, SMS had a 209 per cent higher response rate than emails, Facebook and phone, while four in ten Australians would switch to a business if it offered text communications. 

“While SMS marketing was already an established trend, SMS conversations grew because they’re centred on convenience and provide more remarkable customer experience at every interaction. Lockdowns and social distancing concerns drove its prominence, but – with many new consumer habits here to stay – it’s a trend that will continue indefinitely. 

“The businesses that take advantage of this learning will be those that will lead by example in the years to come.”

Stephen Darracott, vice president, Pitney Bowes (Japan, Australia and New Zealand)  

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“Business-to-business (B2B) customer experience and expectations dramatically changed in 2021, and many organisations found themselves needing to rethink previous approaches. 

“Once, B2B customer interactions were corporate, formal, and business-orientated. However, remote working has broken down barriers between formality and individuality, influencing a more casual business environment and, in turn, altering the customer experience for a targeted, personalised approach. 

“The most important B2B customer experience lessons that emerged in 2021 include: 

  1. Necessity of deeper levels of personalisation 
  2. Growing popularity of customer self-service 
  3. Pivotal importance of social media channels 
  4. Increased use of online meetings, virtual events, and digital demonstrations 
  5. Importance of contactless services
  6. Value of emotional intelligence to address customer expectations. 

“These trends will likely continue to be even more important for B2B businesses to embrace in 2022 as they strive to provide exceptional customer experiences.” 

Geoff Beynon, New Zealand Country Manager for SAS

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“While many business leaders readied themselves for a fresh start in 2022, the ghosts of 2020 and 2021 remain. No industry is exempt from the impact of new strains of COVID-19, supply chain complexities, and stock shortages.

“As organisations adapt to an evolving landscape, analytics technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are helping them adjust quickly, align resources and better meet the evolving needs of their customers.

“In our work with organisations across industries, we have learned a critical ingredient for enduring business success is curiosity. For those of us who are naturally curious, with an innate desire to constantly learn, the present challenges allow us to seek out new knowledge along the way.

“Curiosity can play a key role in leading organisations’ digital transformation, as well as uncovering more value from data and analytics.

“With a trusted source of data and the ability to apply your curiosity to it, the results can be incredible. While outcomes, trends and insights may surprise you, they allow you to learn and make effective, innovative decisions quickly. Tackle 2022 with gusto by giving your teams the tools to be curious, create a safe environment, and lead by example.”

Jonathan Moody, CEO and founder of Physio Inq

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“Patience is paramount, but eventually, you need to make a call one way or the other if things aren’t working out. Don’t be too reactive, but don’t procrastinate either!

“As an owner or senior, make sure that you are transparent with those who report to you that you want to deep dive into their teams to help understand issues to help the manager. 

“Don’t just rely on your report keeping you informed. This isn’t micromanaging, but rather staying connected to the people on the ground and hearing it from the horse’s mouth.”

Matej Varhalik, founder and CEO of SpeedFit

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“It would be about people. I made a mistake and kept some people around that I shouldn’t have, hoping issues would resolve themselves and get better because they were a fundamental part of our business, but culturally it wasn’t the right fit, and it was holding me back. 

“As soon as those people left, everything started to fall into place, and we moved forward big time. I have learnt it is best not to wait to make those hard decisions; as soon as you feel something’s not right, you need to act.”

Scott McCorkell, CEO and Owner of McCorkell and Associates

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“Throughout the progression of 2021, adverse changes extensively impacted businesses across all industries. I like to think of it as a pinnacle year of realising how once novelty practices transitioned to a ‘new normal’.

“With Covid-19 continually exploding into our environment, businesses closed the doors to 2021 with expertise on a dispersed model of work… once a temporary novelty, now considered the new normal reality.

“Completing jobs from home by adapting to the hybrid work environment has now been embraced more so than ever as a result of 2021. Businesses that survived 2020 worked to achieve growth in 2021 —ultimately adapting to survive, with a sense of uncertain optimism.

“However, as the hybrid working environment has continued with permanence, embracing one another in a time of distance has been completed by not going about tasks alone. The increased responsibility for business leaders to hold together a strong sense of communitycontinues to be a precious lesson of 2021.”

Paul Hadida, General Manager APAC at SevenRooms 

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“Fewer industries were hit harder by the pandemic than hospitality. However, 2021 taught hospitality operators that data-driven insights are not only for technology companies and can help their businesses adapt and thrive. 

“With regular lockdowns and border closures, hospitality operators learned that data was the best way to understand their customers and, as a result, provide meaningful, memorable and personalised experiences that incentivise loyalty. 

“By leveraging the power of technology, data and automation, venues were able to offer customers personalised online experiences that made their businesses stand out. In an industry often reliant on short-term visa holders and students, Australia’s talent shortage hit hospitality businesses severely. 

“However, businesses learned that data-driven technology could alleviate the impact by allowing them to do more with less. Hospitality operators learned that in order to survive with reduced staff, technology enables them to optimise staff time, increase efficiencies and decrease admin, all while providing exceptional experiences guests crave, remember and return for.” 

Andy Brockhoff, President APAC at Unit4

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned from 2021, it’s that even the best-laid plans can go awry. Even after the successful mass migration to working from home for large swathes of the workforce amid the pandemic, issues like Australia’s chronic skills shortage and broken supply chains haven’t yet been addressed at scale. 

“The looming threat of more pandemic restrictions made it difficult for businesses to relax. That said, Australian businesses showed remarkable resilience throughout 2021, and they can do the same this year.

“Innovative, forward-thinking organisations embrace agile workplace solutions like enterprise resource planning (ERP) that enable swift responses to rapidly shifting markets, allowing them to do more with less. 

“This technology is more than just buying a collaboration app – businesses that thrived through 2021 adopted solutions that evolved and adapted to support their goals no matter what the market threw at them. 

“In 2022, companies are taking their digital journeys further, looking for the best ways to get the most out of their tech investments.”

Chris Dahl, Director of Sales and Growth, from Pin Payments

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021
Chris Dahl

“Last year was a difficult one for businesses, as many came to realise that the pandemic is here to stay, in one form or another. Leaders who fell back on physical operations and abandoned digital soon learned that in order to survive, businesses’ practices have to remain Digi-physical. 

“Embracing digitalisation and tech is now vital for all businesses, as COVID-19 continues to change the way we work, interact and communicate. Likewise, staff expect their employers to be up-to-date regarding programs and operations, in line with the wider world. 

“Businesses also learnt a tough lesson in 2021 regarding talent feeling underappreciated and overworked due to increased stress, global difficulties, and infrequent holidays. 

“The looming March resignation wave is a ripple of that sentiment, therefore this year, employers must focus on keeping staff happy both professionally and personally, if they hope to attract and retain staff.” 

Antoine Le Tard, Global Vice President – APJC at AppDynamics 

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“In our latest report, we see how Australian consumers became more reliant on applications and digital services over the last 18 months. There’s no denying that the pandemic has had a lasting impact on their behaviour, with 75 per cent of Australians saying that applications and digital services were a lifeline to normality over the last year. Eighty-one per cent say these services have become a critical part of how they go about their lives. 

“But as reliance increased, so did expectations. Seventy-two per cent of Australians go as far as to say that it is ‘disrespectful to users’ for brands to offer a poor digital experience in this day and age. Consumers are expecting the ‘total application experience’. So they want their mobile banking or grocery app, and even essential government services websites, to be reliable, personalised, secure and simple to use. 

“And now they blame these applications and the brands behind them whenever they encounter a problem, irrespective of the issue. Seventy-six per cent of Australians believe it’s the responsibility of the brand to ensure that the digital service or application works perfectly.

“2021 has highlighted that brands need to understand that their applications are no longer just an extension of their organisation or an additional channel to engage with customers. Today, the application is the business.” 

Steven Armitage, Country Director, Australia at SANS

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“Last year, the adoption of hybrid work was solidified. The unpredictive nature of the pandemic saw employees work in the office on secure networks one day and in remote settings the next. 

“While a greater emphasis on implementing security technologies to mitigate the cyber risks associated with remote work was apparent, the need for businesses to include employee cyber awareness into their cybersecurity strategy was and still is essential. 

“According to a report, human error accounted for 30 per cent of data breaches in businesses in the first half of 2021. It’s clear, solely relying on security software is no longer enough to safeguard businesses’ data from cyberattacks. 

“To reduce these errors and better nullify social engineering attacks, organisations must place a greater emphasis on educating their workforce. By equipping employees with the knowledge of what to look out for and how to react in the event of a cyberattack, organisations will improve their overall cyber resilience and ensure cybercriminals’ efforts fall flat.”

Ann Wilde, Founder & Owner of Master Pilates

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“The last two years have been incredibly tough for business owners, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s to be prepared for the unexpected. The pandemic is far from over, and while the uncertainty of this reality can be discouraging, I’ve learnt to let go and become more agile with change. 

“It’s very easy to become fixed on certain ways of working, but I now see change as an opportunity to reinvent the way I do things to improve my business and studio. The pandemic has also underscored for me the importance of people and relationships and the need to nurture these. 

“I value my team immensely and always treat them as equals, ensuring we’re all working towards a common goal while providing as much support and guidance as they need. The same can be said for our clients. The pandemic has been unthinkably difficult for all of us, which is why it’s now more important than ever to practice empathy and compassion. My team and I are committed to recognising our clients’ needs and going out of our way to do that little bit extra which, in times like these, often makes a world of difference”.

Paul Weingarth, co-founder and CEO of Slyp

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“2021 was the year that redefined customer service. Businesses exist to meet the needs of consumers, and the impact of lockdowns and restrictions made meeting these evolving needs even more critical. Customers wanted to get in and out of stores quickly, and retailers had to make a step-change in in-store experience to facilitate this. 

“Contactless shopping became an essential part of the shopping experience, which will continue to evolve as consumers become more reliant on streamlining their life via their mobile device. In 2021, over 880 stores Australia-wide switched on Slyp Smart Receipts. 

“Offering customers contactless receipts sent directly to their mobile via their bank app or SMS has allowed businesses to demonstrate their focus on listening to their customers’ needs while taking a positive step towards greater sustainability.”

Ryan Weeks, CISO at Datto

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“2021 marked a shift in companies understanding and strengthening their cyber resilience efforts through five key capabilities – identifying, protecting, detecting, responding, and recovering. Organisations are starting to realise they need to gain detailed knowledge of their battlefield, their enemy, and themselves to develop a truly threat-informed, risk-based security programme.

“It’s essential to be prepared for cyber battles, and businesses need to understand their risks from both a likelihood and impact perspective, for example, by evaluating which of their assets have the highest attack probability and how valuable these assets are to adversaries. 

“One learning for myself and my team is just how important it is to know your enemy, for instance, by reverse engineering their past attacks. Studying adversary’s tactics and procedures must be a proactive and targeted process. 

“Once you have the necessary information, you need to simulate an attacker’s methods to determine where your biggest risk exposures reside, and they can be mitigated. There are open-source resources to help you understand how your cyber enemies operate. A few resources that we now use include the MITRE ATT&CK database, the ThaiCERT, and Datto’s Threat Management CyberForum, which is growing every month.”

Danny Lessem, CEO of ELMO Software 

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“A key lesson from 2021 is to test and learn consistently. The best way to do this is to use data to uncover insights and information that you didn’t have before so you can explore different ways of doing things or solve issues before they become crises. 

“Data-driven insights are critical in periods of ambiguity – much like 2020 and 2021. Whether it’s seeking to understand how a hybrid working model will work in a given team or how to launch into new markets, data can offer extraordinary value.

“This approach will be increasingly important for businesses in 2022 as ‘The Great Resignation’ is set to see unprecedented employee turnover. Having data and insights into your workforce means you can better understand where the flight risks are and intervene earlier.”

Peter Philipp, Neo4j ANZ General Manager

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“As many of us continue to work from home, either due to restrictions or by choice, we’ve learnt to make a greater effort to stay connected with our families, customers and colleagues. The Great Resignation highlighted the need to prioritise connectedness with employees or risk losing them. Organisations increasingly found themselves reacting in real-time as digital transformations continued to take hold. 

“Everything from roundtables to whisky tasting shifted online. Yesterday’s sales report was deemed unreliable – 2021 pushed the importance of instantaneous stock level visibility and seamless offers to customers. We also learnt how brittle supply chains are. From a single container ship stuck in the Suez Canal halting 12% of global trade to retailers warning of delayed Christmas orders, supply chains were pushed to the limit. 

“This taught us how fragile and interconnected today’s supply chain networks are, and the importance of building resilience in organisations’ networks.”

Charlie Wood, CEO of Wiise 

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“2021 has taught us two key lessons. First, as digital transformation continues to sweep through every industry, it’s the enablers of change that will profit the most. 

“Tech platforms that help other businesses transform and succeed, such as cloud ERP, videoconferencing and collaboration software, are the “shovels” of today’s digital gold rush. Secondly, trust has become table stakes. 

“In an increasingly fast-paced, digital world, we need to be able to trust the people and businesses we deal with and the technology we use. As data regulations standards continue to become stricter, today’s good practice will be tomorrow’s legal obligation and critical for brand reputation. Building trust now will be a significant competitive advantage going forward.”

Steve Maarbani, VentureCrowd CEO

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“2021 was a year of wildly unpredictable change. We expected a lot of things yet didn’t see them happen. We expected the pandemic to end, yet we continue to live with it. 

“We expected our economy to crash, yet employment continues to remain strong, and simultaneously, we avoided a recession. We expected a steady growth of digitisation, but 2021 pushed it into extreme overdrive. “2021 taught us that those who can pivot and can ride the flow of change are the businesses that will persist and thrive. Those that stayed positive amid extreme adversity were the ones that saw opportunities in challenges. 

“And lastly, it’s more important than ever to embrace the digitisation of everything as it allows convenience, flexibility, and more possibilities. 

“Despite the varied challenges of the past year, VentureCrowd’s adaptability and our crowd’s recognition of untapped opportunity brought us our most successful financial year to date, and we’re set to top it in 2022!

Andy Hurt, Poly ANZ MD

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed all of us. It’s made us question our values and re-evaluate what’s important to us. This permanent shift has been extended to how we approach work and our lives in general. Last year taught us the importance of being agile and flexible. 

“We’ve learned to develop plans and strategies that will stand any market changes, empowering us to be creative and innovative to thrive amid uncertainties. We’ve learnt that remote working can be productive, but we need to ensure equality of experience wherever people are working from.

“This means investing in enterprise-grade technology to adapt to decentralised work practices and processes. We’ve also focused on creating equitable and inclusive experiences in today’s hybrid work environment, deploying pro-quality and collaborative solutions to warrantee work equality. As we turn over a new leaf, these lessons will be integral to achieving success in 2022 and beyond.”

Abby Johnston, Strategy Partner, Untangld

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“The big lesson for business in 2021 was that there is no such thing as ‘business as usual. Through 2020 many businesses were waiting for things to get back to normal, but they never did, and they never will. What’s normal anyway? Pandemic or not, business is always impacted by unpredictable external factors, and 2021 has taught businesses to take a more adaptive approach to planning.

“Many businesses learned that hybrid, asynchronous work, works well. It’s not without trade-offs, but ultimately it’s here to stay, and knowledge workers will demand more fluid and flexible work conditions moving forward.

“Almost all businesses had their supply chains impacted in 2021, and the ramifications are yet to play out fully. The sometimes invisible, under-appreciated supply chain management function is not immune to impact, and when it breaks, everything does. The lesson here is to put strategic attention into mitigating supply chain risk.”

Andrew Cornale, Co-Founder and Digital Experience Director, UnDigital

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“2021 was yet another challenging year for a lot of businesses. That didn’t make success impossible; it simply led to some lessons along the way. Pandemic or not, there are some business lessons I’ll carry with me no matter what the circumstances are. 

Invest in culture: ‘Burnout’, ‘fatigue’, ‘The Great Resignation’; these are all terms you’ll have become familiar with if you’ve participated in discussions around culture and the pandemic. They’re all a very real threat if you don’t take care of the culture within your organisation. 

Be agile: In a year where nothing was certain, we learnt that the ability to stop, regroup and execute a new direction was priceless.

Quality over quantity: Bolstering your business with quality clients allows you to complete quality work, adding value to your business. It allows your employees to focus and deliver rather than act mindlessly and burn out. Keep in mind that your clients contribute to your culture as much as your employees do.”

Alec Lynch, Founder & CEO, DesignCrowd and BrandCrowd

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“In 2021, I learned that working remotely can work for many businesses – big and small – and that it can work well.

I observed first hand at DesignCrowd our team of 80 worked remotely perfectly well for over a year – with most of the team happier and as productive as a result. I also learned that remote work is here to stay. In 2021, many tech giants – from Atlassian to Google – made changes to allow remote work going forward. COVID has changed how the whole world is going to work. Forever.  

“I believe the pandemic has triggered the emergence of “Generation Remote”. This generation wants work-from-home with no commute, an optional office and a quarterly team event as the new norm.

“In 2022, DesignCrowd has formalised our work-from-home in Sydney with no minimum days in the office. I look forward to seeing what lessons this change and 2022 brings.”

Ben Pfisterer, CEO and co-founder of Zeller

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“Whether big, small, metro or regional, 2021 taught business owners resilience through change. Resilience helped businesses ride out snap lockdowns, staff shortages and supply chain issues. Many businesses chose new technology providers to help them navigate these challenges — also helping them prepare them for further unforeseen disruptions to ‘business as usual. 

“Preparation for the unknown means businesses are emerging from the pandemic more tech-savvy and financially efficient than ever. Many business owners streamlined tech stacks and ditched traditional, slow-moving banks in favour of innovative financial solutions, smarter payments products and accessible customer service; in fact, 80 per cent of Zeller’s new customers in 2021 switched from a big four bank. 

“Business owners have shown that success will come from adopting a customer-centric approach to new product innovation. In 2022, businesses will harness their new-found resilience to future proof themselves against the coming year and beyond.” 

Ben Pluznyk, Director & Country Manager ANZ at Freshworks

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“In 2021, businesses assessed and reshaped the way they approach both customer and employee experience. 

“Brands realised how hard it is to reach and engage with customers across any channel and that it is no longer sufficient to employ a cookie-cutter approach to customer interactions. Now, customer service interactions are viewed as a golden opportunity to not only resolve customer problems but foster a delightful exchange that deepens relationships and loyalty. 

“Increasingly, companies are rethinking customer service as a branding opportunity, integrating intelligent bots with a human conversation to exceed customer expectations. We’ll continue to see this play out in 2022, as leaders continue putting both customer and employee experience, particularly in light of the Great Resignation, at the heart of everything they do.”

Neredah McIntosh, CEO & Co-founder of Blakes Feast

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the last two years, it’s that the stability and security that we once had as a business is not coming back any time soon. For this reason, we must continue to adapt. 

“If you want your business to survive in the current climate, you can’t be complacent; you constantly need to evolve and look for opportunities, even in the most stressful & bleakest of times. Resilience and agility will be the most valuable skills for any successful business.”

Nigel Ng, APAC Vice President at Tenable

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“One of the key lessons for businesses in 2021 was about changing their view of risk and its potential impact in the ‘new normal’ and adjusting their cybersecurity strategies and mindsets accordingly. 

“In a rapidly changing landscape, it was not enough for leaders to implement one cybersecurity strategy or rely on ageing tactics against increasingly agile threat actors and hope for the best. 

“Risk and threats have become more multifaceted in the new world of work, making it difficult for organisations to anticipate where incidents would happen, especially with employees constantly on the move and accessing enterprise data in diverse settings, from their homes, local cafes, or while commuting.  

“This situation has encouraged leaders to rapidly embrace a zero-trust model across their enterprise to protect all assets, playing a vital role in an organisation’s overall cybersecurity strategy in 2022.”

Jennifer Warr, HR Director at Reckitt Hygiene Australia

Let’s Talk: 40 Top Business lessons from 2021

“2021 was a hard year for many businesses, testing culture, resilience and above all, employees. Learning the importance of workplace flexibility, successful companies learned to build their model on the foundation of their people, prioritising their wellbeing and then taking on the challenges facing their business. 

“As the pandemic enforced a working from home policy throughout the year, it was imperative for companies to adapt accordingly while listening to their people.  

“Although an eye-opening year, it was important for business leaders to invest in this new model of flexible work and continue the level of trust with their employees, built through their ability to submit quality work from a home setup. 

“At Reckitt Hygiene, we continued to support through ergonomic home setups, virtual seminars, and social events, to ensure and reflect how success lay in the hands of our employees. By placing our teams’ physical and social wellbeing as the priority, we secured their freedom to succeed in changing working normalities.” 

Read more: Let’s Talk – How has COVID-19 changed the sales process?

Read more: Let’s Talk: How can you entice existing customers to spend more?

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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