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 its headquarters renovation.

February 20, 2019

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

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.

Early engagement

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.

Phased move-in

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.


Aha! moments

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.

Helpful hindsight

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.