How automation will impact office based employment in Asia Pacific and examines the consequences for corporate office demand across the region.
Technology has long been a major driver and disruptor of workplace and workforce change. During the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th
centuries, the creation of the factory system, which used powered machinery and centralised workplaces to mass-produce goods, rendered many craft workers obsolete. At the same time, however, it made products cheaper for general households and created new job opportunities in the manufacturing sector. In Asia Pacific, rapid industrialisation and urbanisation has transformed the composition of the regional workforce over the past 40 years. Employment in primary industry has fallen from 64% of total employment in 1980 to 32% in 2016.
The latest wave of technological evolution, which includes robotics and artificial intelligence, is expected to have a far more profound impact on
jobs and the nature of work. New advances have led to the development of intelligent machines and enabled computers to self-improve by deep learning. The Internet of Things – the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects – is enabling machines to perform a greater variety and number of tasks, at speeds and levels of complexity far beyond human capability. That said, the ability of a computer to truly think ‘freely’ or to have a creative approach to work is still many years away, if it ever proves possible at all.
The coming years will see the rapid automation of manual labour and customer service jobs, forcing millions to learn new skills or change roles entirely. A 2013 study by Oxford University estimated that 47% of total jobs in the U.S. are at risk of at least partial automation. While many of these roles will be blue collar jobs, office-based employment, ranging from non-professional administrative functions to higher value and more complex roles such as lawyers, fund managers and sales managers, will also be affected.
Taken at face value, the automation of a large number of office jobs implies that companies will require fewer employees and, consequently, smaller office space. However, the reality is more nuanced and complex, and will likely see most jobs evolve in different ways to harness the respective strengths of humans and technology.
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