The word ‘disruption’ carries negative connotations, typically being applied when someone or something has been prevented from or inhibited in carrying out a typical function. But disruption should also be viewed in a positive light as a catalyst for change and enabler of evolution. Disruption opens the door to new paradigms.
Disruption of the people, by the people
People are thinkers, innovators, doers and disrupters.
In the context of business and commerce, disruption emanates from the motivation of individuals and entities to make life easier and the world a better place, increase wealth and create legacies.
Innovation helps facilitate these motivations, disrupts the status quo and often creates winners and losers. Unfortunately, the latter group tends to attract the most media coverage because bad news sells; it’s important to view any form of disruption with two eyes rather than one.
The story of short-term letting platforms such as Airbnb disrupting the hotel sector is widely known as is the notion that the long-term residential letting pool has become shallower because of this form of disruptive innovation. Yet there are currently dozens of hotels under construction in Australia, indicating investor confidence in the long-term viability of the sector. Furthermore, supply-demand imbalances in the residential letting market will ultimately neutralise, with build-to-rent likely to play a significant role – a perfect example of disruption opening the door to a new paradigm.
Disruption for a better workplace
It could be argued that office workers, now more than ever before, are prisoners to electronic devices. Be that as it may, somewhat paradoxically there has never been greater freedom and choice in a workplace:
- Freedom to work remotely from home, at a coworking provider or in a café – anywhere with wifi connectivity, but even that isn’t essential.
- Choice to move around office workstations, allowing workers to collaborate and develop deeper relationships with a variety of different colleagues rather than being wedged between “John” and “Jane” five days a week.
- The growing recognition that productivity is not measured by the amount of time you sit behind a desk but by your output.
This freedom of movement is a stark improvement from office environments prevalent in the late 1980s and early 1990s, where workers couldn’t stray far from the PCs fixed within their six-by-six partitioned cubicles. The 1980s is often lambasted as an era of poor fashion tastes and the same might be said for office accommodation.
Technology has -and will continue to - disrupt the form and practices of the white collar labour force. Two decades ago, business output was concentrated in CBD locations. Since the turn of the century, we’ve seen businesses move operations offshore to lower-cost locations and also provide greater mobility and flexibility to local workers, which is increasingly becoming embedded in the business functions they carry out. Agile and project based working, with fluidity of temporary and permanent human resources, has become a common business practice.
Inexorably gaining momentum, one of the next big disrupters to white collar employment will come from big data and AI. The product of these two will automate roles – rudimentary tasks to begin with but becoming increasingly complex over time. To the benefit of businesses, this technology has the potential to deliver the high levels of productivity growth last achieved by the widespread adoption of the internet and computers, growth that wasn’t quite emulated with the advent of smartphones despite their ubiquity.
This disruptive innovation will cause job losses but will also create more roles, especially in the fields of maths and science. Data scientists and data teams will become a core business requirement. Any dumbing down of mathematics curriculum at schools seems to run counter to the way society is evolving. Such is the rapid pace of technological advancement, learning needs to be an ongoing, continual process.
Landlords and tenants can combine to upskill the labour force
The threat of being left behind by disruption is one reason why workers place such a high value on learning and development. In CBRE’s 2019 Australian Office Occupier survey, the results of which will be released in November, occupiers indicated that their employees would be highly responsive to education and learning events and initiatives conducted within a building.
Over the past decade there has been a growing emphasis on health and wellbeing, and this has been manifested in the workplace through the provision of exercise classes, wellness initiatives and facilities that accommodate a healthier lifestyle. Based on our occupier survey, improvement of mind now seems to be more important than improvement of body. This represents an opportunity for landlords and tenants to collaborate in providing the facilities and training to upskill the labour force, providing individuals with a sense of intellectual advancement and ultimately lifting productivity.