Augmented work: how can humans and machines collaborate?

A working world in which people and robots accomplish things together rather than separately will have significant implications for office property and workspace design, according to a new discussion paper from Mirvac

Robots and machine intelligence are set to play an accelerated role in a post-Covid-19 workplace but the future will not just be about automating human jobs. The real opportunity will be in what people and machines can accomplish together rather than separately – this is the world of augmented work and it is explored in depth in a new discussion paper from Australian property developer Mirvac, produced in partnership with WORKTECH Academy and launched on 1 September 2020.

The report, entitled ‘Augmented Work: how new technologies are reshaping the global workplace’, looks at the rise of robotics, AI and machine learning and how they are set to impact workplace design. It outlines a future world of work in which humans and machines will work together to improve efficiency and experience. It also gives a glimpse into what our future workplaces will look like from robot service tunnels and drone platforms to 24-hour dark-room office spaces for robots only, which do not require lighting or air-conditioning for humans.

‘It gives a glimpse into what our future workplaces will look like from robot service tunnels to dark-room office spaces…’

According to Mirvac’s General Manager of Workplace Experience, Paul Edwards, who commissioned the report, ‘For many years now, technology has been driving the change in the role and purpose of the office. Many people think robots and AI are set to take jobs from humans, but that’s far from the case. Instead, our success depends on how humans and machines can work together to accomplish more.’

Edwards adds: ‘Covid-19 has accelerated digital working across the world and machines will complement this shift. We will see automation and robotics filling gaps in process driven activity, while intuitive AI software will help foster virtual collaboration, onboarding and staff connections for remote workers. These trends will all impact the design of workplaces and office buildings in the future.’

Ascending scale of autonomy

The report forecasts that humans will begin to work with machines more often and in different ways. It references a range of five models for those relationships in an ascending scale of robot autonomy. The Assigned and Supervised models are where machines complete tasks that require significant human input; the Coexistent and Assistive models shift the balance towards the independence of the machine; the Symbiotic model, still some way into the future, is where machines require minimal human input to complete high-level tasks.

Being able to understand and leverage the different models is critical to creating and managing a successful workplace, according to the report, whose lead author was Arraz Makhzani of UnWork.

Paul Edwards explains: ‘More machines in the workplace will dramatically change the way we design office spaces. What is interesting is how both remote working and digital transformation result in the same change to the purpose of the office, as we increase the focus on human-centered skills such as creativity, collaboration, empathy, integrity and adaptive thinking.’

‘The end-game for augmented work can be higher-quality human jobs…’

WORKTECH Academy director Jeremy Myerson adds: ‘The Mirvac report reveals that the end-game for augmented work can be higher-quality human jobs, based on imagination and intuition, while machines do the process-driven stuff.  There are so many scare stories around automation. The real picture is inevitably much more nuanced and complex. We hope the report will be a useful addition to the latest thinking in around the future of work.’

Access the Mirvac report on augmented work here.

Listen to a WORKTECH webinar featuring Paul Edwards of Mirvac discussing the report with Jeremy Myerson of WORKTECH Academy here.

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