More than 80 percent of the U.S. workforce would like to telework – an attractive option for employers who could benefit from a potential annual saving of $50 billion USD in office costs. Augmented reality, or full virtual reality (VR) can allow workers, service providers and clients to meet in virtual cyberspace, so why do we need office space at all?
The nature of work has evolved from the industrial age, through the information age to the conceptual age. As work continues to evolve, how will the workplace change for today's workers and tomorrow's graduates? The pace of change has been accelerating. What will people do in the offices of the future?
The workplace of the future is a hot topic in the world of investing where businesses seek to gain a competitive edge while minimising costs, increasing agility and attracting talent. PropTech and other new technologies offer solutions to make workspaces more responsive to occupier needs but as spaces get reinvented regularly, are traditional real estate categories still relevant?
Tech advances eyed with suspicion
While pressure to innovate and embrace new tech solutions is putting additional strains on the workforce, predictions of doom are misleading. Automation and tech advances won't eliminate the total number of jobs – for every job lost to automation, more will be created in new fields. Uniquely human traits like analysis and innovation cannot be replaced. There will always be a need for humans behind the machines, but the machines can allow humans to focus on more meaningful tasks.
The jobs of the future will be less fixed – they won't fit current job descriptions. Workers will need to embrace lifelong learning and retrain regularly to keep their skills up to date in the dynamic workplace. On a positive note, learning new skills has never been easier thanks to remote training options and access to a world of information at our fingertips.
Building agility into the workplace
Not only will workers need to retrain but workplaces will need to be reconfigured to be more flexible to accommodate the changing nature of work. Tech tools allow asset managers to match supply with demand and find new uses for available space. Industrial space is being used as office space, hotels are being used as entertainment space. Any underused space can be harnessed to fill a need.
"The wave of flexibility is apparent everywhere," said Dror Poleg, Founder of Rethinking Real Estate at the World Built Environment Forum Summit in New York City in May. "It applies to the whole market. In New York, more than 50 percent of the leases signed each year are flexible."
Though leases are being rewritten to make them more flexible, this trend is rolling out slowly because it takes time for old leases to time out and get reconfigured. Beyond flexible leases, companies are finding innovative ways to build agility. They're still trying to make predictions on how much space they will need in five to ten years but occupiers are also forming new partnerships that allow them to expand and contract as business demands. This might mean companies are sharing space with others – even within the supply chain and logistics, companies are coming together to make better use of underutilised space and find efficiencies to allow for growth in markets with a tight supply of industrial space.