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The Ultimate Disruption: How AI And Automation Will Change The Office

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Rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and automation will force the greatest disruption to business in our lifetimes. Commercial property is in for some big changes, too, but there is no need to fear the rise of the robots.

Building at night

Tom Carroll, director of JLL’s Europe, Middle East and Africa and UK corporate occupier research team, said many of the first effects of automation and artificial intelligence are already being felt in businesses worldwide. JLL itself recently took a big step into AI when it signed an agreement with Leverton to automate lease administration. Leverton's machine learning technology enables the identification, extraction and management of key terms and data from corporate documents, such as leases and contracts, in more than 20 languages. JLL’s clients will benefit from faster and more efficient processing of documentation, reduced operational risk and a more robust audit trail.

Intelligent software is already automating many back-office roles in fields like accountancy, finance and law, Carroll said. E-discovery software, for instance, can analyse millions of electronic documents and tease out ones that might be relevant for a legal case, even when specific words or phrases are not present.  

Chicago-based Narrative Science has developed software capable of taking raw statistics and data and converting it into prose. Originally used to convert sports statistics into news stories, it is now being used by Credit Suisse to summarise stock activity for the firm’s brokers — a task that was formerly undertaken by a team of 20 people.

Asimo robot

In a similar capacity, Kenshoo — a natural language processing system that Goldman Sachs has invested in — provides detailed answers to financial questions that are asked in plain English. 

Cognitive AI programmes that can respond to natural language will make human-to-machine collaboration part of everyday working life, Carroll said. 

Advances in AI mean buildings will be able to collate building usage data with information about individual staff movements, and use this data to facilitate interactions between staff. Carroll said some companies are already leading by example. At Bank of America, sociometric badges were used to identify why some call centre employees were more productive than others. In an environment that was so controlled that even workers’ breaks were scheduled one at a time to maximise people on the phone, the data collected from the badges was startling: the most productive employees took breaks together. The bank rescheduled employees' breaks to maximize interactions and saw a 10% increase in productivity.

Francis Crick Institute
Francis Crick Institute

Automation will not entirely replace human labour, Carroll said. Creative, innovative, strategic work will always be central to companies’ success. But as automation handles increasingly complex tasks, companies will reorganize around their core functions. That means leaner companies with an intense focus on value creation. Ironically, this could create a labour shortage as companies compete for the true-blue creatives in a vanishing labour pool.

To attract scarce high-value employees, trophy offices in city centres with high-quality amenities will continue to be the norm whilst back offices will be relegated to the cheaper suburbs or outsourced altogether.  

Incubators, accelerators and clusters of creative or tech hubs will become more prized as collaboration among different disciplines leads to broader successes. Places like the Francis Crick Institute will typify large-scale developments, Carroll said. The building was designed to promote connections between researchers, disciplines and academic institutions, healthcare organizations and businesses. The result is one of the most vibrant research institutions in the world.