This changes everything: working in a human-robotic ecosystem

How will digital technologies transform the world of work? What will the rise of the robot do to corporate real estate models? In the wake of the WORKTECH New York conference on 4-5 May, panel chair Peter J Miscovich of JLL explains

The digital revolution is radically transforming the world of work. As the fourth industrial revolution gains momentum, enabled by third platform technologies such as cloud, analytics, mobile and social business technologies—digital transformation accelerating at scale will reinvent the traditional office on every level.

How will digital transformation impact the future of work and the corporate workplace of the future?

Facing the challenge of workplace diversity and complexity

Global organisations will be challenged by greater workforce diversity and increasing workplace complexity. Digital transformation will require never-ending enterprise workplace transformation across all industry sectors.

Historically, the corporate workplace was the only place you could perform your day-to-day work activities. Today, employees can access large data sets and perform complex tasks from an airport lounge, a hotel lobby, a co-working space, a networked workplace location or any other kind of ‘home office’ or ‘third place’ location.

Freed from the constraints of the traditional physical office construct, 35 per cent of today’s workforce comprises autonomous, contingent workers who form the ‘human cloud’ or what Accenture has coined the adaptive ‘liquid workforce’. The liquid workforce is expected to reach 75 to 80 per cent of the future enterprise workforce by 2030  (see Ardent Partners, The State of Contingent Workforce Management 2015-2016: The Future of Work is Here, Acton, Massachusetts, December 2015, p 6).

We are also witnessing the emergence of new workforce management models as companies embrace the ‘Hollywood model’ of project-based workforce management. In the Hollywood model, artificial intelligence-driven, web-based workforce platforms will quickly bring on-demand knowledge workers together to meet the ever-changing and dynamic work requirements of the 21st-century enterprise. We will experience new levels of virtual collaboration and worker efficiency within these next-generation workforce management platforms.

Bring on the bots     

Digital transformation will bring new levels of workforce automation and robotic process automation (RPA) to the global enterprise. Artificial intelligence (AI), advanced analytics, cognitive computing, mobile technologies, virtual and augmented reality, and other technology innovations are creating new kinds of jobs, while augmenting some existing jobs and displacing other jobs entirely—and permanently.

Many companies are digitising their products, services and operations, disrupting traditional enterprise business models. AI, cognitive computing and RPA, for instance, will enable employees to deploy software robots to perform repetitive, time-consuming tasks.

Already, enterprise software robots can update client profiles, report on compliance issues, process insurance claims or complete other tasks with minimal human intervention. Innovators like BodyLogicMD, and Bone offer software robots, or virtual assistants, for auto-correspondence such as scheduling appointments and other office functions once performed by only by humans.

Similarly, Nuance and Pandorabots provide virtual robotic agents that conduct live text or voice chats with customers, answer questions, suggest services and even provide tutorials to customers. Humans will be collaborating more frequently with our competent robotic colleagues as human-machine collaborative ecosystems grow in capability, scale and intelligence across the enterprise.

Transforming corporate real estate

Clearly, most organisations will need a different scale and mix of workers than today, along with a different mix of work locations and work environments. The next generation of corporate real estate strategy will most likely be built around boundary-less, technology-enabled, multi-nodal workplace networks.

The enterprise workplace is no longer just about the corporate footprint, but about providing ‘workplace-as-a-service’ and a high-quality, connected experience that will provide employee fulfilment and delight. A high-quality, employer-branded workplace experience will become the gold standard of workplace strategy. Companies must ensure seamless connectivity and collaboration no matter where an employee is working.

The need to attract and retain high-quality ‘digital talent’ will continue to be a major economic consideration for companies as all compete for highly valued talent needed to power the 21st-century digital enterprise. Digital talent may be defined as enterprise talent that possesses essential digital technology skills and capabilities. The high quality ‘experiential workplace’ will become the preferred inspirational workplace choice for the very demanding and highly valued digital workforce of the future (see CoreNet Global, The Bigger Picture: The Future of Corporate Real Estate, Atlanta, 2016, p9).

Some workplace designers are taking cues from the retail world, seeking to attract, retain and engage talent by creating workplaces that integrated physical and digital, similar to Apple retail store environments. For instance, a worker could use virtual reality to test new products or, eventually, use a hologram or a telepresence robot to attend a face-to-face meeting or collaborate with distant team members.

Taking the next steps

Amidst rapid and profound change, companies can take several steps to develop the next-generation digital workplace that anticipates emerging future-of-work requirements. Here are three:

Create human experiences with people-first workplace strategies that make people the first priority

Enable human performance with a consistent, high-quality human experience no matter where a person is working. Empower employees to participate in decisions about their space, through interactive surveys or via sensor-based Internet of Things-enabled workplace technology ecosystems.

Enable digital drive with the digital transformation of corporate real estate and the workplace

Adopt and integrate digital workplace technologies such smart building systems, the Internet of Things and other emerging technologies to accelerate digital ‘workplace-as-a-service’ capabilities that will provide more personalised and interactive digital workplace experiences for employees.

Embrace continuous innovation via workplace design concepts that support the innovation mandate

Provide workplace choice so employees can choose the right place for the work. Gensler research shows that the most innovative employees are twice as likely as less innovative peers to have access to cafeterias, cafes, amenities and outdoor spaces for work purposes, and report having twice as much control over when, how and where to work on a daily basis (see Gensler, U.S. Workplace Survey 2016, San Francisco, July 12, 2016, p3).

New strategies will be required for survival

Of course, no one can predict exactly what the business world will look like in the not-too-distant future. What do we know? The future of work will change everything. Next-generation, innovative business and workplace strategies will be essential for global leading organisations to not just survive, but to thrive within this brave new world of work.

Peter J Miscovich is Managing Director, Strategy + Innovation, at JLL and an expert on the future of work and workplace transformation. He is chairing a panel on The Next Generation Digital Workplace at WORKTECH New York, 4-5 May 2017
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