For the third consecutive year, we’re predicting the top service management trends to sweep the industry in 2021. Last year, I said that most trends in service management develop slowly. This year, however, Covid-19 shook things up beyond belief — providing an array of challenges and opportunities in equal measure. Let’s examine the service management trends that we predict will define service management in 2021, with many having been influenced in some way, shape, or form by COVID-19.

1. Working from home and digital workspaces – the new normal

Almost overnight, Working From Home (WFH) turned from a nice-to-have workplace benefit to the de facto way of working for millions around the world. Service organizations that weren’t properly able to support WFH when Covid-19 hit were suddenly forced to improvise and, most importantly, get collaboration solutions up and running as quickly as possible.

It’s therefore no surprise that WFH is top of this list. We predict that it will continue to have a major impact throughout 2021, not least because the process of getting the pandemic fully under control will likely take a while. But that’s not the only reason. 2020 has proven that WFH does actually work, so even when the pandemic is no longer a threat, many office workers will likely find themselves only returning to the office on a part-time basis (for perhaps a couple of days per week, for example).

Global Workplace Analytics projects that “we will see 25-30% of the workforce working at home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of 2021”.This is unsurprising given its many advantages: lower expenditure on office rent, decreased travel expenses, less time spent commuting, and reduced carbon emissions.

Service organizations must therefore cater to a workforce that is remote for at least a significant chunk of their workweek. This means any temporary solutions that are ‘good enough for now’ should be replaced by more durable solutions that make working from home just as pleasant and effective as working at the office.

Consider this example: what app do your employees use for video calls? They likely use MS Teams. And Slack. And Zoom. And Google Hangouts. Perhaps they even use all four in a single day alone. As such, if you haven’t done so already, you’ll need to standardize and properly facilitate your tooling.

2. Employee experience & ESM go hand in hand

The rise of employee experience (EX) is undeniable. A recent study states that “EX has exploded from its first appearance in 50 or so companies in 2017 to finding a place today in most Global Fortune 500 organizations, and a significant number of smaller companies as well.”

Working from home has obviously had an enormous impact on EX. Your employees are no longer working away in the office space that you optimized for the precise type of work that they’re completing. Instead, they’re typing away at the kitchen table while fending off their kid who keeps asking for cookies. And they’re no longer using your carefully curated tech stack – the tools and infrastructure that you painstakingly designed for them – and are just using any relevant cloud apps that they can get their hands on.

All organizations are therefore facing the same problem: facilitating excellent EX while everyone’s working from home.

So what’s the solution? Well, it seems like an increasing number of service departments have realized that cross-departmental collaboration could be the answer. As Forrester puts it: “In an era of pandemic-driven remote work, infrastructure and operations (I&O) organizations must look beyond IT service management (ITSM) and provide workers with pain-free, productive, personalized, pervasive, and predictive service.”

Fuelled with the ambition to provide fantastic EX, organizations will increasingly continue to break down silos between different service departments. As a result, more organizations will begin to adopt Enterprise Service Management practices. This collaboration between service departments, such as IT, facilities, and HR, will undoubtedly take many forms: ranging from small practical agreements on how to handle requests all the way to setting up a shared service desk that serves as the first point-of-contact for the entire organization.

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3. Putting people (and their wellbeing) first

As I mentioned in last year’s post, the past few years have seen an increased focus on the wellbeing of service staff – and rightly so. Until roughly the beginning of this year, the main catalyst behind addressing people issues was usually the logic that ‘happy employees make happy customers’. If you take care of your employees, they will be more intrinsically motivated, they will perform their jobs better, and in the end, they will provide more value for your organization.

Since Covid-19, however, we have a new reason to prioritize investing in our people. In an insightful crowd-sourced blogpost by ITSM from earlier this year, 36 industry authorities gave their view on what ITSM will look like in the new normal. Many pointed towards the importance of taking care of people, their health, and their wellbeing. We’re no longer talking about “How do I get my staff’s job satisfaction from OK to great?”. Instead, we’re talking about “How do I prevent anxiety, stress, or burnout among my staff? ”Since Covid-19 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, taking care of your people will remain incredibly important throughout 2021.

4. Agility as a must – but not everyone calls it ‘agile’

Whether you call yourself an agile organization or not, in 2020, you had no choice but to drastically change your ways of working. Organizations that already embraced agile principles had the advantage of being able to adapt quicker to the pandemic and having everyone suddenly working from home. But the pandemic had another interesting side effect – it has also lowered our collective tolerance for slow, overly bureaucratic processes.

Let me explain.

In many organizations, even the smallest request for change needs to be approved by a Change Advisory Board (CAB), which can take weeks or even months to be approved. The aim is to maintain full control over every change within your organization. Covid-19 showed that when you really need to, you can completely change your way of working in a matter of weeks. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, and some parts of your WFH experience still need improvement. But it worked. So more organizations will likely ask the question: can’t we approach our work in a more agile way? How can I speed up my change process, for instance? Whether you decide to call that agile, however, is up to you.

5. Hyperautomation – or, the end of ‘AI for the sake of AI’

Artificial Intelligence, arguably the hottest boardroom topic for a few years now, has become especially interesting recently. That being said, its potential impact and practical application for service organizations is still rather limited. Automation, on the other hand, does not have so much hype, nor is it terribly sexy. But it has always been incredibly useful when it comes to service management. The idea of automating simple, repetitive tasks – and leaving your staff to focus their energy on more complex work — is obviously incredibly attractive.

But what makes automation particularly relevant in 2021? Well, we’re beginning to see the end of ‘AI of the sake of AI’, and there’s been a shift in focus regarding how we can actually apply AI. A year ago, Gartner named ‘Hyperautomation’ the number one strategic technology trend for 2020, defining it as follows:

Hyperautomation deals with the application of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), to increasingly automate processes and augment [people].

That means Gartner defines AI as a form of automation. As logical as this sounds, it’s a significant observation, since it stresses the application of AI – instead of merely focusing on the technology itself. As such, this puts it on the same general spectrum as APIs, RPA, chatbots, and workflow automation. Service organizations will stop asking their tool vendors “Do you offer AI functionality?”, and will instead start asking “Which tasks could you automate for us?”. Whether AI is used for automation should not matter in the slightest. So in 2021, I predict that more organizations will actually start implementing AI technologies instead of just reading up on its long-term potential.

Towards the service desk of 2030

As we wrote earlier, we see service desks further embracing automation in the years to come, freeing up time for service desk staff to focus on providing excellent service to their customers. The Covid-19 pandemic emphasized that, regardless of any technological advancements you might implement, the key to providing service excellence is to have happy and healthy service desk staff.