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Return-Tech: The 12 Theses We Believe Will Guide Product Development in the “New Normal”

Mike Stern

Mike Stern


This article is an excerpt from our full-length, free-to-download Return-Tech report

COVID-19 has redefined how we all look at the world, and its impact will shape our lives far into the future. Returning from the global lockdown to a new normal is proving anything but simple. After months of social isolation and economic slowdown, people and organizations are anxious to start things up again, remaining justifiably nervous about how to safely engage in radically reshaped contexts.

But some surprising positives have come out of the pandemic. COVID-19 has re-connected us and made us re-appreciate the way the world used to work. In fact, in many cases, people have been questioning where they can make progress and create new better, more equal, more human systems. To ease the transition, technological shifts and products are emerging to help us navigate the world in appropriate new ways, changing what we expect, need, and value from the technologies we use.

Connected, with our history of unearthing disruptive, commercially viable opportunities and building better products that deepen remote connections, is well-positioned to lead the push for Return-Tech that will define the ‘new normal’ both during the slow return-to-normal process and for the world afterward.

As product builders, we—like our customers—are looking to Return-Tech to drive recovery and fill in emergent missings. The 12 theses in this piece are designed to frame our thinking on this emerging category and provide strategic direction for product thinkers and builders. They are meant to provide a first-principles approach to thinking about the Return-Tech category.

The 12 Theses of Return-Tech

1. Return-Tech is an acute need to bridge us into a new normal

Return-Tech is acutely needed right now to bridge companies into the new normal, whether that be for their customers, workers, or suppliers.

2. Return-Tech is a sizable and complex opportunity space

Return-Tech is a sizable opportunity space to discover and deliver in, because ‘returning to the new normal’ will be much more complex, gradual, and critical than is currently understood.

3. Return-Tech embeds health and wellness

Return-Tech will often weave health-tech and wellness-tech through it, as organizations that never had to think about health concerns before are forced to build for more health-conscious users.

4. Return-Tech can bring new relevance to existing tech

Return-Tech can refer to some technology that was already in progress, but is more relevant and useful now than ever before.

5. Return-Tech bridges digital with the new physical

Return-Tech will often bridge the digital with the new physical (a more socially-distant and health- conscious physical). Remote collaboration tools are an obvious example, but also safe and smart environments, asynchronous collaboration tech, and much more.

6. Return-Tech emphasizes scalability, resilience, and security

Return-Tech will emphasize scalability, resilience, and security in a world that has been awakened to the increased importance of technological tools.

7. Return-Tech means hyper-impact: speed and ROI

Return-Tech will require compressed buying, discovery, solutioning, and delivery cycles (hours not days, days not weeks, weeks not months, months not years), with greater emphasis on near-term return on investment and a hyper-impact mindset.

8. Return-Tech is foundational, not a fad

Return-Tech is not a fad or throwaway. It will represent a bulk of all new technology built in the next four quarters. It will be foundational, and sit underneath ‘transformative’ future tech to come.

9. Return-Tech will change product development projects already underway

The majority of product development projects underway will need to account or adjust for the Return-Tech imperative.

10. Return-Tech accelerates structural shifts in traditional industries

Return-Tech will be deployed alongside rapid industrial structure shifts. Some industries will transform and rise through the return: health, pharma, agriculture, construction, education, non- profit, manufacturing 2.0, government 2.0, legal, and retail. Other industries may not return at all.

11. Return-Tech anticipates the future by building for right now

While some might advocate for a ‘returned future’ and a ‘horizon 3 reimagined future’ as separate horizons and distinct planning phases, our job as strategic builders is to anticipate the near future and build for what’s needed right now in parallel.

12. Return-Tech pioneers will lead in the new normal

Organizations who thoughtfully invest in the Return-Tech imperative now have a generational opportunity of winning in the new normal.

To learn more about the shifts in user needs, desires, and jobs to be done, download the full report here.

Mike Stern

Mike Stern


Mike is the CEO of Connected and is passionate about building the next generation of product development leaders. Mike’s product development experience spans a variety of industries, technologies and geographies. Previously he worked in venture, NGO, k-12 education and live event production.

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