Why the human touch will still determine the future of work

3:29 PM Friday August 2, 2019 Todd Lauchlan

Tech is transforming how we work but people, not tech will be key to the future. Photo / Getty Images

Driven by rapid innovations in technology and almost unfettered global connectivity, our physical and digital experiences are merging ever closer. The age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is now truly upon us.

While the Third Industrial Revolution was also digital in nature, it took a far more linear form. The Fourth, by contrast, is characterised by the synchronisation of rapidly-changing digital technologies. This has already created seismic shifts to the way we live, and is now influencing the way we work.

We have quickly become accustomed to tapping into technology to personalise and control everyday experiences.

We map out the quickest route and gauge the traffic before leaving; we control temperatures and answer the door at home while we're away; and when we travel, we take it for granted that our preferences will be catered for. So it's only natural that we should carry these expectations through to the workplace.

A recent JLL and CoreNet Global survey found that 85 per cent of executives believe smart building solutions can directly benefit worker satisfaction and therefore productivity.

The implementation of technologies like the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, automation and Virtual Reality means buildings are getting smart enough to adapt to our personal needs.

We can now reserve workstations for the day with our phones, walk into rooms that adjust the temperature to our liking, visit coffee stations that automatically prepare our favourite brew, or connect wirelessly to a nearby whiteboard.

If we can do this now, what does this mean for the future of work? Will we simply, as the dystopian theory goes, end up outsmarting and ultimately replacing ourselves?

Robots have been prevalent in manufacturing for years, and now automation is impacting jobs.

Repetitive tasks, such as compliance reporting and data registration, are being automated through cognitive computing and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Virtual assistants and virtual robotic agents can now have voice chats with customers.

One of our Australian offices recently unveiled their new receptionist (which admittedly is still somewhat of a novelty) 'JiLL', a 57cm-tall robot with inbuilt software that helps it to recognise employees. It can also carry out basic tasks such as meeting and greeting guests and providing directions.

However, while technology may alter how work gets done, it is unlikely that robots will displace us all. The most likely scenario is that new jobs will emerge, and the work that people and machines do will become more interconnected. This will still require a human touch.

Given the speed of change, it's impossible to predict what questions we will be asking 10 years from now about the future's future.

The only prediction we can make safely now is that technology will continue to be a disruptive force, and that resistance to the changes it brings will be fruitless.

Real estate's potential to help organisations harness this digital transformation to achieve their potential is bigger than it has ever been — and this is only the beginning.

But this will require collaboration across multiple sectors to ensure advances retain and respect that key balance between the personalised and the personal.

We are on an exciting journey, to which we don't yet know the destination. The most important thing we can do now is to spark conversations, maintain dialogue, and remain focused on collectively meeting the challenge of keeping pace with significant change.

- Todd Lauchlan is managing director of JLL NZ