James Maddock has news for surveyors: the future’s already here.
Rather than the challenge of understanding and accepting the technology, one of the first barriers to embracing change and preparing for the future for many of us is getting our heads around the terminology that goes with it.
James Maddock’s presentation to the SCSI’s Annual Conference in Croke Park on November 10 was a whistle-stop tour through the things that are already affecting how we work (whether or not we realise it) and the things that will utterly change the workplace of the not-too-distant future.
Key to these changes are concepts such as the ‘gig’ or ‘sharing’ economy, where freelance, contract-based work is the order of the day, and terms such as ‘disintermediation’, where roles become obsolete as consumers stop dealing with intermediaries and go direct to the source, or where they are simply replaced by technology.
In property, these changes are personified by the rise of companies like Airbnb and purplebricks.com, and the implications are huge.
Staying ahead of these developments is something that Cushman & Wakefield, where James is Head of Global Occupier Services EMEA, has placed at the centre of its operations, particularly since its merger in 2015 with DTZ. James says both companies have always had to be “different” to survive: “We’ve invested a lot of time and energy in the future, in thought leadership, in innovation, and it continues to be something that we’re proud to tell our clients about”.
The workplace of the future
So what will the workplace of the future look like? We often hear predictions that more of us will work from home, but James is not so sure. For him, now more than ever workplaces are about the people who occupy them, and the kind of life, and work–life balance, they want: “Culturally, humans like being with other humans. Working from home is quite lonely, and people will want to come into cities and towns to collaborate with other people. In 15 years’ time, with artificial intelligence and robotics, we will be able to be at home, but it will feel like we’re in the office, so we can decide if we want to come into a busy city centre, or stay home and have the same level of interaction that we had before”.
For employers, the key here is not just flexible working hours, or the opportunity to work from home, it’s about a whole spectrum of amenities: “We get more out of our people, without a doubt, in offices that are laid out in a better way. But talent is scarce at the top level and when we are trying to recruit our best people we’re showing them round the offices, and if they see and feel a sense of buzz and collaboration, they are more likely to come to us than to the competition. It’s a really big selling point. Companies need to create the space, the feel and the people to attract the talent”.
And that talent is increasingly going to be made up of the generation we call the ‘millennials’, a cohort of young people whose outlook is profoundly different from the generations that have gone before, not least in its inherently global nature. In his presentation, James pointed out that by 2025, 75% of the workforce will fall into this category, and employers haven’t begun to address the implications of this: “They think differently and policymakers are not listening. Banks in the mid-90s created great workplaces but it was all about making people work longer hours to make more money. Now money is not the driver – it’s about other things”.
Those ‘other things’ include an acceptance that the workplace of the future will be a 24-hour environment, and not just because the millennials want somewhere cool to socialise after hours. The way people work is changing, and buildings, and the cities they’re in, will have to adapt: “These ‘solopreneurs’ don’t work ‘normal’ hours, yet the air con in buildings still comes on at eight and turns off at five, and it’s dangerous to walk outside the office if you go home at eight in the evening. You’re not creating an environment that is for these people”.
With the lines between work and home blurred, people will want to integrate their family and working lives far more too. A vibrant city centre, with less traffic (and more public transport and cycling infrastructure), that you are happy to raise your children in as well as working there, is what will attract the highest calibre of employee.
And that also means, in James’s view, the kind of social change we talk a lot about now, but seem to have difficulty making a reality: “Millennials won’t settle for things the way they are – they will expect a work environment that accepts things like shared parenting as the norm. One of the things we need to be doing is looking at what other countries do well and looking to emulate that. In Sweden, parental leave is available for everyone, so there is no gender gap. The Cushman & Wakefield CEO in Sweden is female”.
James at a sunny Croke Park for the SCSI Annual Conference.
Hours at the desk
For those of us used to a more ‘traditional’ way of working, and perhaps more resistant than we might like to admit to the level of change that James says is coming (and indeed is already here), the elephant in the room is whether employers will embrace the new world. James doesn’t think they’ll have a choice: “Twenty years ago we might have said: ‘we can’t do that here because culturally it won’t work’. But the ‘culture’ argument is becoming less relevant – we’re global now. However, bosses are not in that mindset, and if you’re not in the office then you’re not working. The technology to measure productivity will eventually come, but for now the only way to measure that in, for example, the service industries, is to measure hours in the office”.
James says that the concept of ‘gamification’ (another new term for us to embrace) comes into play here, with elements of (particularly online) game playing, such as answering a series of questions before you can leave a section of an online form or article, used for everything from training employees to measuring compliance.
Embracing the tech
If you’re still sceptical about the impact this technology will have on your future workplace, James has news for you – it’s already happening: “I’ve been to Japan and you get welcomed by robots there. Artificial intelligence has completely revolutionised facilities management. When you think that the iPad was invented only six years ago, two years into a recession, and now tablets are ubiquitous: that’s absolutely incredible”.
One of the biggest potential game changers for the property industry is the data generated by communal living and working. James elaborates: “The big stuff will be HR data – linking HR data with property data into an algorithm that’s smart will create something very interesting. Some of this is happening already: from technology that lets you know how many unoccupied parking spaces there are, or where people are in a building, to knowing how high you like your desk to be when you put your laptop down”.
He mentions a tech company where all the furniture is on wheels – everything can be moved and anywhere can be a meeting room: “The office just needs to be a box that you can do things in”. Of course, there are always challenges: “Power is still a big challenge at the moment but it won’t be in five years. If we can drive a car down the motorway with a battery, we can keep our phones going for a bit longer”.
What now for surveyors?
Of course, the SCSI Conference was ultimately about how Irish Chartered Surveyors can weather the changes to come and adapt how they do business to survive and thrive. For James, it’s about behaviour – willingness to change, to look forward, and to learn. Key to this is research.
“We need as an industry to learn from other industries that are ahead of the game. The RICS has done some fantastic futures work but they haven’t done anything with it. We know it’s going to happen, but what are we telling our members we’re going to do about it?”
That action might take the form of adapting CPD so that it takes in more than just the elements needed for professional qualifications, and embraces future planning, thinking about new asset classes and investments, and other things that are affecting the sector now and in the future. There’s no doubt that now is the time to be making these changes, but are existing structures fit for purpose? James thinks not: “The people on committees who are deciding these things don’t tend to include millennials and most of them don’t really understand this stuff! The people who should be challenging the industry are the 25-year-olds. They should be the ones being told by the RICS to take these ideas forward, but that’s not what’s happening – they’re not on the boards”.
He’s also in favour of some fairly radical changes that might well hold the key to the current skills deficit in the sector: “I think the industry should be made up of a more eclectic group of people, to bring more richness to it. In the US there are a lot more lawyers and accountants in the property profession – it makes for a very different conversation”.
This openness to trying different professions and welcoming different skill sets is, once again, something the millennials are already embracing: “Because we had no social media, we tended to socialise with like-minded people. Millennials don’t – they’re sitting in a pub and they’ve just heard what Apple is doing, and they’re going to end up saying to their boss: ‘we should do that’. The question is: is their boss prepared to take the leap and accept the change? I don’t think so”.
This may be fear of obsolescence – but it has to be dealt with if progress is to be made: “It will happen whether you stick your head in the sand or not, so do something about it”.
Think global, act local
So in this era of globalisation, of technology and future thinking, is there a space for strong, local professional knowledge of the type that SCSI members have in abundance? Well, maybe…
“I speak from the perspective of what I think the next generation will like versus what I like. I still like the social interaction and the conversation and advice. But it may be that in the future doing these things with virtual reality will be a real winner.”
Virtual reality, mapping and drones may mean the end of a number of roles in estate agency and commercial agency. Online auctions are having a similar impact on legal aspects of property such as conveyancing. Lease administration is already being automated, while satellite mapping is changing how we view boundaries. So perhaps the skills shortage in the industry is a short-term one, while we iron out the glitches in automated systems to create an industry that actually needs fewer people, and uses them for the things that people are good at. But what are those things? The truth is, we simply don’t know yet, and we need to ask some tough questions in order to find out: “When we ask ourselves where the line is between people and technology, the older generation needs to raise that line really high up. If we don’t, we’ll be disintermediated”.
So what will they do?
“Something else. Manufacturing disappeared, and yet we’re at higher employment than we’ve ever been in the UK, so people find other things to do. There will be other roles – and we don’t know what they are yet – that will come out of this, for example, managing data. It’s a complete change in the way we do business”.
James’s career began at DTZ as a graduate in 1990 – “I’ve been there all my life”. He qualified in London and then went to work in the Middle East for a year before returning to the UK: “Over the years, I developed an affinity with occupiers. I took over the occupier space at DTZ in 2004 and I’ve been running that team now for 12 years. From a team of two, we are now 534 after the merger with Cushman & Wakefield”.
How to not become Kodak
James says that looking at ‘comparators versus competitors’ is vital for businesses now. What do we need to do, and how is someone else doing it? He uses the example of TomTom, the satnav system that just a few years ago was ubiquitous, and on pretty much everyone’s Christmas list: “The rise of in-car satnav, and indeed of smartphones, means that no one needs a TomTom anymore, so what did TomTom do? They went into partnership with Vodafone and Google, using their expertise in mapping, Vodafone’s access to data, and Google’s platform, and all three created Google Maps. Satnavs came and went within ten years: what will come and go next?”
Journalist and Sub-Editor with Think Media Ltd.