Which skills will remain valuable in an era of AI and how will the office adapt?



By Jessica Alderson, Global Research Analyst for Workthere

Advances in technology mean that the job landscape is changing and it’s changing fast. So far, the impact has mostly been on how and where we work, with the inherent nature of jobs being less affected. But we’re on the cusp of a revolution. Artificial Intelligence (AI) expert Kai Fu Lee believes that 40% of the world’s existing jobs will be replaced by robots. However, while some skills are relatively easy to perform with AI, there are others that quite simply can’t be replicated, or at least replicated well, with technology. So what are they?

1. Creativity

It’s hard to automate creativity, almost by definition. Creativity is the ability to transcend traditional rules and patterns to create meaningful new ideas, methods and interpretations. It’s out-of-the-box thinking. It’s originality. It’s essentially the antithesis to everything that robots are built upon. Creativity can be applied in many ways and is by no means limited to artists, graphic designers and the like. Computer programmers and mathematicians can be equally creative in a different way. Creativity is so important because it’s strongly linked to problem-solving. By their very nature, problems often don’t have simple, immediate, pre-defined solutions and new ideas are usually needed in order to solve them.  

2. Communication

People need human connection. We always have and always will. To some extent communication is being automated, but it just doesn’t compare to the real thing. Calling a customer services number when you’re in need of help only to be faced with an automated voice can be frustrating. There are a myriad of subtleties when communicating with someone in terms of choice of words, tone of voice, body language, etc. Our responses aren’t pre-programmed and based on rules, they happen naturally, which makes them difficult, if not impossible, to replicate with technology.

3. Understanding people

People are hugely irrational in their own unique ways. If we weren’t, we’d essentially be living in a world of robots already. Even being human ourselves, it can be  challenging understanding others, let alone understanding something of a completely different nature (think about trying to understand a dog). We’re a long way off using technology to understand human emotions, so jobs in fields such as marketing, management and sales are unlikely to be replaced by AI in the near future.

4. Critical thinking

Critical thinking involves reasoning, interpretation and evaluation. It’s thinking rationally and deducing consequences based on evidence. It’s not accumulating information or following direction regardless of who the guidance is coming from (two areas in which AI far exceeds people). The thought processes of critical thinking are highly complex.

So how will this all play out in the world of work? As well as jobs involving the skills above being more resilient, there will also be new jobs created, such as roles that entail managing the relationship between people and machines or IT teams that support the AI. With machines replacing some jobs that were once done by people, perhaps we’ll work fewer hours. In 20 years’ time, will the 38 hour work week be that of only myths and legends, and will the next generation look back in horror at the fact that people actually used to spend most of their day working? It’s a nice thought, but in reality we’re a long way off from that. In the nearer term, the war for talent will intensify.

Whilst the demand for skills such as creativity, communication, understanding people and critical thinking will increase, the supply of these skills will stay relatively constant, at least in the near term. These skills will become more valuable and the competition for the talent that harbour these skills will increase. So how do you win this war? Our research shows that the future workforce value their potential workplace even more than their salary.

It’s a trend that we’ve been seeing for many years now, but the office will become an even more important factor in attracting and retaining the best workers. In terms of the former, first impressions matter. When prospective employees visit an office, they often immediately form an image of what it would be like to work there. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests the top talent now expect Google-esque offices and that companies that aren’t based in the best work environments won’t be able to compete. There are even a growing number companies using flexible offices to interview candidates to ‘pretend’ it’s where their business is based (great for the talent attraction side of things, not so great for the talent retention part).

In world of ever-chaining and improving technology, offices need to ensure that their design strikes the balance of being up-to-date with the latest relevant AI and technology trends, but also still remain an appealing place for humans to work. Furthermore, in order to ensure their design is future-proofed the office needs to remain flexible enough to be able to quickly adapt and respond to changing technology innovations.

Flexible offices have far outpaced their conventional office cousins in terms of overall office experience. From the bigger things like creating a collaborative atmosphere to smaller aspects such as roof terraces, flexible offices are at the forefront of space-as-a-service and it would be hard to argue otherwise.