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What will happen to places of work in the future?

Isidora Markovic
Isidora Markovic

This is part 2 of a 2-part series following Microsoft expert Nick Hedderman’s talk at London Tech Week’s '“Future of Work” Summit. Read part 1, about our evolution towards a hybrid workforce model and technology’s role in it, here.

Thoughts on the need for - and importance - of office spaces have done a 180 since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sentiment swivelled from skepticism about the efficiency of remote work, to a string of businesses, like Twitter, publicly announcing teleworking as a permanent change and their new status quo.

Are such decisions indicative of a wider trend that sees offices shut their doors forever?

As established last week, the future of work is neither fully remote nor fully in-person - it’s hybrid.

So what does a hybrid workforce mean for commercial real estate?

What will happen to places of work in the future?

If you are staunchly pro-office, you can breathe a sigh of relief.

Places of work won’t disappear, but they will be reimagined. There’s already been an outbound migration away from cities driven by COVID-19, though it’s yet to be seen whether this is temporary - while WFH orders are mandatory, people bounce back after redundancies and the draws of big city life are closed for business. 

But migration to the suburbs was a trend prior to COVID-19, which has just (temporarily or otherwise) accelerated it. From 2014 to 2018 domestic migration to New York City and Los Angeles was down by 3%. Washington, DC, Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco similarly all lost more residents than they gained, while net migration to small and mid-sized cities like Nashville and San Antonio rose by 4%.

Amazon, Facebook and Google all recently increased their physical footprint in Seattle.

Who is leaving cities?

Perhaps unexpectedly, Ernst & Young found that Millennials purchasing homes in the suburbs rose by 14% over a 2 year period. Where Millennials are choosing to live has significance as Millennials and Gen Z grow to make up the largest portion of the workforce.

As workers migrate, offices will follow. This means companies will no longer have single, centralized hubs on long-term lets in major cities only, but shorter-term local lets that scattered around employees’ communities, that will be  “more agile and temporary”, like coworking buildings or even, “hotels”. 

The role of the office of the future

These workplaces will also take on a different role.

They “will no longer be a place for traditional desk-based working” where people commute daily to arrive at 9 and leave at 5, but instead will resemble “drop-in space[s] for collaboration and connection”, Hedderman said. They will exist to serve certain purposes and facilitate certain things that are better executed in-person. Think: “team building opportunities” or “meetings with customers”. 

As the fabric of the physical workplace has transformed, so have traditional expectations around the way we work and the hours we work - “we have a different view on what work-life balance means to us”, he noted. 

Lockdown threw balancing daily responsibilities - like childcare - to the forefront. As companies reinvent themselves and come to resemble a more hybrid model, not everyone will be expected to be working, whether in-person, or online, at the exact same time. They will instead work a schedule optimised to their personal circumstances.

Companies will also move away from presenteeism (being present in an office, or being “online” on a communication tool) as an indicator of success and instead focus on output as a key performance indicator. 

The role of automation in the future of work

There’s much that’s been said about automation. You’ve probably read at least one article about the looming threat a fourth industrial revolution (dubbed “4IR”) poses, where machines will replace humans’ jobs, leading to mass unemployment.

In reality, the future of work is less a question of humans versus robots than it is of humans and technology working symbiotically towards a more productive future.  

In his talk, Hedderman echoed that automation won’t wipe out jobs, but augment them. Companies will boost “productivity with artificial intelligence” by shifting employees’ “focus on higher value tasks”.

In other words, repetitive tasks you go on auto-pilot to complete will be reserved for AI, freeing up time to work on projects that require uniquely human attributes, such as critical thought and creativity. 

This will result in a more optimised, streamlined business function where technology and humans combine and play to their unique strengths. 

Using eduMe, you can automate learning flows by setting up triggers that will send timely and relevant learning to whoever needs to know something or be upskilled, whenever they need it. All so you can save time on projects that play to your uniquely human skills.

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