There is no denying possible, the main roles in our industry will drastically change in the next few decades. Depending on how you experience change in itself, this is either very exciting or worrisome. We believe it is rather exciting.
This post is written just because we love change in itself. We truly do. Our organization has always been at the forefront of change. We were in the midst of how the internet changed communication, commerce and ultimately business in itself. In our former roles, we helped big corporates go online and communicate and sell their services in new ways. We also helped them internally change the way they worked by digitizing, standardizing and automating their workflows. We brought the original iPhone to the Netherlands before Apple Netherlands did. All of this is not to illustrate how much we like to be early adopters but to show our intrinsic love for adopting change.
Twelve years since the launch of the iPhone we are now at the end of 2019. We have spent the last decade working for clients on the brink of organizational change and creating future work environments. That decade started with helping organizations cope with their changing ways of working due to the rise of mobile technology and the crisis. Not coming from an architectural, real estate or facility background we looked at their challenges as we have always done: What is the true business problem? And what are the questions behind the more apparent change question and how could technology positively impact that.
In the first years we worked in strategic workplace consultancy, we were simply baffled by the lack of technology, data and automation. In all the roles that work from ‘idea’ to ‘operating’ the future work environment, the level of digitalization is mainly Excel, Word, Powerpoint, and design software like Sketchup or Autocad. If we take it one level further there is a very small group using data inputs from workplace surveys, using ‘big’ data with applications like Power BI and partial automation in design environments.
But the truth is, apart from some marketing and vision presentations, the real use and value of using technology and automation in this industry are negligible. Tens of thousands of people in our industry advice their clients and create their outputs using email, spreadsheets, documents, simple design applications, and FMIS systems to go from ideation to operating the work environments for their clients.
This is a HUGE opportunity. Working in an industry that is this under automated is like doing a numbered puzzle. So many of the opportunities are no-brainers. But the hardest thing in our industry is changing people. There are a few reasons why in my opinion:
1 Scale. The workplace industry is scattered into lots of small organizations. Even the larger Real Estate organizations are still divided into silos and locally managed, making automation harder from a different perspective like standardization, budget and managing progress. This influences the demand for automation.
2 Division. From ideation to an operating work environment, there are many roles in this industry. Workplace consultancies, real estate advisors, building project managers, brokers, architects, interior designers, facility professionals, engineers, project developers and more. This whole list of roles is part of larger projects when it comes to realizing future work environments. Like the first point, there is little standardization and integration of these services so far due to the division of labor among so many roles.
3 Demarcation. It is clear what the difference is between a doctor and a dentist. But in the workplace industry, a lot of organizations are still hesitating which role the want to play. It is normal that some of the roles integrate into one organization but we have seen that it is hard for these organizations to remain at the same professional level in all these roles. For example, architects that do project management or brokerage firms doing workplace consultancy. It is all possible but all disciplines need enough energy and autonomy to develop their skillsets within the process. For automation, you need to fully understand every step of your process and be able to drive innovation in it.
4 Creativity. We all take pride in our work. But the higher the level of talent required, the more defensive we become when it comes to automation. Tellers, cashiers, and many other roles got the message quickly. They do nearly a single task and that can be automated fairly quickly. Easy ‘prey’ for automation you could say. But we have arrived at a higher level of automation. Doctors and Lawyers have studied for longer periods of time and sometimes have vast knowledge and experience. But even this knowledge and experience is quite structured and well documented. I will not forget an article in the Independent from 2017 with this title ‘JPMorgan software does in seconds what took lawyers 360,000 hours’. Accountants, doctors, lawyers, see their respective roles diminishing due to automation. A part of our workplace industry is driven by creativity. Workplace concepts, designs, architecture are design-driven and some see it even more as an art than a profession. Letting automation handle creativity is against our nature. That automation is up for complex tasks like stacking and blocking based on human input and that interior design could be auto-generated based on preferences is not a common desire, yet.
Despite the hurdles mentioned, every six months there is more to see and learn about the adoption of AI and automation in the workplace industry. Large architecture, engineering, and real estate firms are exploring the possibilities. New start-ups are popping up that not only work on proptech but also ‘architech‘ and ‘worktech‘ so to speak. The truth is that we are not that far off from automating the design of work environments based on human behaviors. There are already multiple initiatives that are able to design work environments based on human behaviors. And like us, there are multiple organizations capable of providing structured work behavior data to help fuel these automated applications that can design. This coming year, based on our first attempts with Superlab and the University of Lund and talks with other innovative tech companies we will show more of what is possible. Our first step is the launch of our new software ‘Behavioral Space Programming’, where we are closing in on automating space programs. This information can be fed to design software that can turn space programs into interior designs.
To learn more about our project on how AI can help behavioral data into designs watch our 9-minute video here.