The rise of the digital workplace is transforming the physical office

serviced officesA recent survey by Gartner predicts that one in five workers will have an AI bot as their co-worker by 2022. It’s almost impossible to talk about the future of the workplace without mention of AI or robotics, and is therefore hardly surprising that there is a feeling of apprehension amongst workers. PwC’s 21st global CEO Survey in 2018 revealed that between 23 percent and 51 percent of respondents were “extremely concerned” about the speed of technological change, and indicated “anxiety about the impending promise and perils of AI.”

Despite huge technological advances, there is, and always will, be a fundamental need for office space which stimulate human connections and interaction. The key for employers in a technological age, will be to adapt in an intelligent way. The workplaces of the future should welcome and harness the power and opportunities of AI to transform business, whilst maintaining the integrity and value of a physical work place.

 

Improving interactions

Face-to-face, conversational and personal interactions are the engine rooms of businesses. But one of the major fears expressed by workers, is that AI and robotics will quite literally replace them. A recent report by the Harvard Business Review however, found that technology has, in fact, done little to dilute this, making it difficult to argue that AI has the power to substitute human communication.

Far from rendering obsolete interactions and communications– AI can help to create more time for it

Used well, advanced technologies have the power to liberate time for human interactions and worker productivity. All firms, no matter their nature, can use AI to automate the manual, administrative, repetitive and frankly boring tasks, allowing employees to re-focus their attention to the more innovative and creatives aspects of work that ultimately drive business growth. A recent study from Infosys, found that, of those companies which have made significant progress in adopting AI-supported programmes, 80 per cent of employees have been able to refocus their time on new business ideas and 75 per cent on learning new skills.

AISense, a feature available on conferencing platform Zoom, automatically transcribes meetings and publishes them as an interactive text, rendering obsolete time costly minute taking or transcribing. Another software, X.ai, gives employees their own virtual scheduling assistants, efficiently removing the need for human input. Using AI to automate these administrative tasks has the potential to increase overall productivity by up to 40 per cent. Far from rendering obsolete interactions and communications– AI can help to create more time for it.

 

Reciprocation, not replacement

Another common misconception is that AI and bots will ultimately replace the human workforce, or that they are essentially mutually exclusive. But in fact, the most productive relationship between AI and human is collaborative. Fundamentally, human knowledge is the brain food of AI, meaning that workers must use their own experience, knowledge and expertise to teach and inform machines to be smarter – to complement human activity rather than replace it.

Harvard researchers Tony McCaffrey and Lee Spector uncovered in their study, that even the most advanced AI systems still cannot explain the “how” or “why” things happen quite as well as humans can. Put simply, machines are still not capable of coming up with as many creative solutions to problems as humans.

It is for this reason that employers must foster a harmonious relationship between the two. Employees must be up-skilled to process information that is being generated by AI and then apply their uniquely human skills: intuition and emotional intelligence, to deliver the best results. ‘Soft’ skills such as these will be crucial in the evolving digital age.

 

Future-proofing

These advancements create a bigger role for the physical office than ever before. Businesses will continue to rely on the office to foster collaboration, attract and retain talent, and contribute to the progression of skills. But a new aspect to the workplace of the future will be to support the collaboration and optimal relationship between the office and AI.

Workspaces will need to be equipped with the inherent infrastructure and capabilities to host digital advancements. These features, together with an environment that unlocks the potential of the human workforce, will drive businesses’ growth as they move forward in the digital age.

Images: Peldon Rose / Office Space in Town

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Giles Fuchs is the CEO of UK serviced office provider, Office Space in Town

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