JLL’s Chicago headquarters renovation
A two-story coffee lounge, stunning views, and state-of-the-art technology. See how we completely reimagined six floors of the Chicago Aon Center for our headquarters renovation.
Six floors gutted, redesigned and rebuilt
1,200 employees across 4 generations weighed in on what they wanted in their new workplace
200,000 s.f., completely restacked with minimal disruption
The world of work is changing, driven by rapid technological innovation. That speed of change is accelerating, driving more offices to adapt. And yet, our headquarters hadn’t been renovated since minor cosmetic updates in 2007. An upcoming lease expiration was just the trigger we needed to reevaluate our space. What worked and what didn’t?
Calling on a full spectrum of JLL services, we evaluated our current space, compared alternative buildings, built a future-proof workplace strategy, and ultimately decided to renovate. We completely reworked 200,000 square feet of space on six floors to better serve more than 1,200 current employees, who were instrumental in shaping the space. The result is a flexible, people-centric environment. It reinforces our culture, supports wellbeing, and promotes productivity.
And as our global headquarters, our space at Aon Center in Chicago now sets the tone for our brand, our business, and our future.
The new space
Our new two-story reception space is lofty and welcoming, with east-facing windows that capture the morning sun and those stunning lake views. A concierge greets every guest, offering beverages and directing them to their meeting room, comfortable seating, or a place where they can work. Tall tables suitable for seated or standing work are equipped with power sources, and the whole space is WiFi-enabled. Large touchscreens display videos, news, and interactive content that tell JLL’s story.
Our new workstations, called Studios, are designed with flexibility and collaboration in mind. They feature adjustable-height desks with sound-absorbing privacy panels that move up and down with the desktop. And every desk is equipped with a monitor that raises and lowers –no more hunching over laptops. All major pieces of furniture are on casters so employees can shape their space vs. being confined by it.
The two-story Club is our new employee common space. With WiFi, plenty of power sources, and a variety of seating options, employees can work solo, have meetings, or socialize. A team of baristas serve coffee, tea, and other beverages during the day (we’ve got kombucha on tap!), and after hours the space can be used for special events. The large dining room adjoining the Club was custom-designed for training sessions and interactive meetings. Its doors fully retract to create a flexible, wide-open space to suit any style of meeting or event. Attendees can also mingle in the open loft space on the floor above.
A choice of small telephone rooms, mid-sized huddle rooms, and larger conference rooms encourage concentration, connection, and collaboration – whether formal or impromptu. Comfortable cafés throughout the space replaced outdated employee kitchens, complete with secluded booths and community tables. And shared “neighborhood” spaces offer a variety of casual soft seating so people can work the way they prefer.
Technology throughout the space is designed to support flexibility. With “first-ring hunts,” incoming calls will ring an employee’s desk phone first, then go to their cell phone. For meetings, employees can reserve rooms of various sizes via Outlook meeting invitations, from their personal devices, or via touchscreens outside the rooms. Within those rooms are monitors for collaboration, electronic whiteboards, and easy-to-use video conferencing technology.
Our renewed office is certified LEED Platinum, and uses resources with care to support long-term ecological balance. Almost 100% of the lighting is LED, and a state-of-the-art lighting system senses daylighting and occupancy to reduce energy even further. A New Waste Program includes personal recycling bins at each workstation and organic composting in every café. The entire renovation used zero VOC paints and sealants, and low flow water fixtures reduced water use by 35%.
Why renew now?
The workplace has changed radically in recent years. Four generations of employees are now working together, each with different styles. When you factor in rapidly evolving competition, and technological and social change, it’s clear how vital it is for businesses to future-proof their workplaces if they want to thrive for years to come.
Standing still isn’t an option in our warp-speed world. We recognized that staying competitive hinges on having a well-designed, people-friendly workplace that encourages real productivity and collaboration, promotes health and happiness, and helps us attract and retain top talent. Our research showed that our own headquarters space wasn’t fully addressing these needs, so we took bold steps to create an entirely new office and transform the way our employees work.
How we did it
Assemble an A-team
Reinvigorating your workspace takes a village. So, when we launched our headquarters project, we paired our best strategic thinkers and experts in selecting, planning, and building modern work spaces with Gensler’s visionary and innovative designers. Armed with insights from the people who influence JLL’s success the most – our employees – we collaborated to invent a new kind of workplace –one that balances how our people want to work with insights about the future of work.
Should we stay or go?
With a lease expiration looming in May 2017, we had to decide whether to stay and renovate or move to a new space. Early visioning sessions with leadership, stakeholder interviews, and an employee survey looked at location, commute, amenities, and our current building to decide what we liked vs. what was available elsewhere. A thorough analysis voted to “stay,” and the complex lease negotiations began.
What’s a renovation without employee buy-in? A baseline survey taps employee feedback on all aspects of the existing office to find out how it supports (and hinders) the way people work. And to appeal to the workforce of tomorrow, we developed a group of millennial representatives. The project team opens lines of communication with this key demographic intentionally and early in the process. It is established that our ultimate goal is to design and build space that allows our people –regardless of their demographic–to do their best work.
Swing space shuffle
In a multi-floor renovation, how do you figure out who will move when? And where do you put people during construction? It’s a complicated puzzle, but with a temporary “swing space” in the same building, we shuffled our workforce with minimal disruption. First we had to evaluate business needs and work with an architect to design the final floorplan to lay out where each group would work. From that, we worked backwards to find each group’s move date, starting with reception. We can’t take reception out of service or move it to a temporary swing space, so that was a catalyst that triggered which floors moved when.
Each phase of the renovation completed two floors at a time, and we celebrated these milestones with events and incentives for the entire workforce, not just for those who had moved in. New desks are only exciting for few, so each phase incorporated a company-wide reveal, such as our lounge-like reception or the two-story Club. People were invited to celebrate with breakfasts, giveaways, and photo booths. Regular tours were given to employees who had yet to move. Continued training and engagement were carried out by dedicated change ambassadors.
It wasn’t possible to predict all the thoughts, ideas, and challenges that would come up while creating a functional and engaging workspace. It is, however, fun to share; so for your education and enjoyment, check out some of our favorite Aha! moments.
Bring them back in
In early occupancy studies, we found utilization was down, which is a problem both from an efficiency and a cost perspective. And it’s a solid signal that our space wasn’t serving people well. At the same time, JLL was performing well, so we knew people were accomplishing work outside the office. Message received. We raised utilization by offering more choice and more spaces to encourage people to be present and be productive in a way that makes sense to them.
Buffer your timeline
With 1,200 people, an 18-month timeline and 200,000 square feet, the project was bound to veer from the plan. Case in point: Our tax department was scheduled to move Sept 12, 2016, but September 15th is a huge tax deadline where employees are all hands on deck in a rush to the filing deadline. Their move date was pushed two weeks back. Extensive planning can’t predict every turn. Our mantra: stay flexible but focused.
A lounge-like reception is rather sleek, but ultimately only inviting for guests. After move in, we recognized this distinction was wasteful and switched up the furniture. By reconfiguring reception to be inviting to both guests and employees, we increased its use, justified its investment, and gave guests a welcome window into the way our people work.