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October 9, 2017

With more than half the world’s population now living in cities, urbanization has become the norm.

By 2030, that figure is expected to rise to 60 percent and, with greater urbanization, we are seeing a transformation in how humans work, live, learn and play. How will cities, and the urban real estate landscape, adapt to this revolution?

The evolving workforce

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution – with its convergence of emerging technology developments in areas such as robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, the Internet of Things and autonomous vehicles – will change the future of work for every organization in every industry during the 21st century,” says Peter Miscovich, Strategy & Innovation practice lead for JLL.

“Greater automation will result in many familiar jobs no longer requiring only human skill and we will see the expansion of machine to human collaborative ecosystems globally.”

The World Economic Forum estimates 40 percent to 60 percent of people now doing transactional work could be replaced and/or augmented by artificial intelligence, workforce automation and smart cognitive ‘thinking machines’ over the next 10 to 20 years.

Most job losses and technology job augmentation will be in the areas of office and administrative work, followed closely by manufacturing and production sectors. Other career possibilities will emerge or expand as the next-generation workplace shifts to more data-driven, human-to-machine platform collaboration.

The onus will be on next generation skilled professionals known as future “Digital Talent” to gain expertise in automation management, data and analytics, and newly-essential technology skills and capabilities.

Changing working patterns

The way today’s global businesses operate is also changing and transforming.

The growing sophistication of cloud, mobile, social, and digital information and communication technologies enable teams to communicate and collaborate from anywhere at any time, fostering a highly connected, geographically dispersed and hyper-agile connected workforce.

Virtual reality and extended reality and other technology innovations promise even more radical changes to mobile and remote working going forward.

“The emergence of these advanced technology platforms and dynamic new business and workforce models will require organizations to rethink their workplace and CRE [corporate real estate] portfolio strategies,” says Miscovich.

“To be successful, companies will need a different scale and mix of workers than today, along with a different combination of work locations and work environments – agile and flexible workplace networks – will be needed to support the expectations of the next-generation ‘digital’ workforce.”

Workplace-as-a-service

Faced with these converging technology, workforce and workplace trends, companies will need more flexible real estate portfolios and agile portfolio management.

The increasingly mobile, hyper-connected and often on-demand workforce is already affecting how much space is needed, where facilities are located, and how space is to be configured, utilized and managed.

As a result, the emphasis will be on boundary-less agile corporate real estate strategies and multi-nodal workplace networks.

However, workplace provisioning will mean more than targeting the right amount and mix of space. Forward-looking companies no longer view facilities management as being simply about buildings.

Instead, Miscovich says the emphasis will migrate toward “workplace-as-a-service” – with firms providing ‘Third Platform’ advanced technology capabilities that deliver a high-performance and “high touch” technology enabled consumerized work experience, wherever an employee may be working.

“For example, leading companies are replacing traditional cubicle-based, impersonal workplaces with more flexible, technology-enabled, interactive, immersive and customizable social work environments that will boost well-being and productivity.”

Creating smarter cities

The workforce and workplace trends are also placing a new set of demands on cities.

To meet companies’ and citizens’ calls for high-quality digital infrastructure and more sustainable environments, many cities are developing and updating their long-term technology urban infrastructure investment plans.

By investing in high-bandwidth infrastructure and encouraging development of smart buildings, these urban centers seek to gain a competitive economic advantage over other less technologically-advanced cities in the race to attract both digitally-savvy professionals and the corporations that hire them.

“Second and third-tier cities can potentially move up the global urban index rankings simply by investing more capital in smart digital urban infrastructure,” explains Miscovich.

“This urban digital infrastructure will be key to attracting and supporting the digital workforce of tomorrow, as well as creating long-term urban vitality. Such digital infrastructure investment initiatives clearly are increasingly important for cities.”

As well as jobs, investing in the smart city concept will help cities become more environmentally sustainable – cities create more than 80 percent of all global carbon dioxide emissions.

Efficient urban building retrofits and innovative energy management programs can reduce carbon emissions and can make the grid more efficient, resulting in long-term financial and environmental savings and societal benefits.

According to Miscovich, these kind of smarter urban landscape infrastructure investment initiatives will add to a city’s allure for the next generation of “digital talent” as well as to attract successful companies.

Although, with it comes heightened risks.

While smarter cities and workplaces bring incredible prospective value, they come with a greater risk potential for digital disruption and cyber-information theft, notes Miscovich.

“Therefore, public and private organizations should prioritize “systemic resiliency” to ensure they can recover from any potential natural catastrophe or digital disaster, which all too often occur at the same time.”

Technology developments are dramatically influencing and transforming the next-generation workforce and emerging work practices across all industry sectors and across all global organizations.

In response, all companies will need to develop agile corporate real estate portfolio planning and innovative workplace strategies that will attract future digital talent and that will deliver operational excellence and a strong return on investment (ROI) – if these organizations are to thrive and survive within the continually-evolving and increasingly disruptive global business environment.

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Peter Miscovich

Strategy & Innovation practice lead for JLL.

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