Case Study: How JLL is Using Lessons from COVID-19 for the Future

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, global real estate services firm JLL moved quickly to address the impact on its employees and stakeholders. Among its other initiatives, JLL formed a steering committee of leaders from across its business functions. It also built connections with other firms through peer-to-peer information sharing. Now, two years into the pandemic, Meredith O'Connor, International director, Chairman Headquarters Practice Group at JLL, reflects on the firm’s successes and lessons learned from responding to the pandemic and looks ahead to how the experience will inform JLL’s future.
Meredith O'Connor
International director, Chairman Headquarters Practice Group at JLL

Early in the pandemic, JLL started reaching out to other organizations to share best practices and options for returning to work. How has that effort evolved over the past two years?

Peer group conference calls were one of the most successful initiatives we launched, as they offered participants a place where they could ask questions, seek help and support each other. We were meeting by industries and learning best practices around the questions everyone had — when and when not to test, how often should we test, who needs to be tested and why and when should people go back into the office. We are still very much involved with our industry groups. I can't tell you the amount of goodwill and potential business, if not transactions, that have come out of those peer-to-peer discussions.

How has that shaped the process of returning to the office at JLL?

We're in the business of office space, so we were trying to practice what we preach — and that's a lesson learned: maybe in some cases we went back too early. We've had our office open since the end of June 2020. For our brokers, being in the office is critical. If you are on a brokerage floor, you're going to see probably 60 to 80 percent of the brokers there today, and they have been there for quite some time since 2020. However, hybrid is the word that we keep consistently hearing. Hardly anyone is going back five days a week. So, for JLL, if we're going to keep growing our young talent, we have to be flexible. We have to be able to give people choices of how and when they come into the office.

How has JLL been handling vaccinations, testing and the logistics of keeping people safe?

We're by the book. If the government issues a requirement, we're all over it. We have a committee that is led out of Chicago, because it’s our headquarter city, that dictates who needs to do what. If you’ve got leaders that make rules, people have to abide by them.

What are some of the lessons you learned from the internal steering committee JLL created, and how are those lessons helping JLL now?

The steering committee allowed people to be sensitive to everyone's situations and feelings. Dictating rules and not taking the time to hear people out could have possibly caused people to blame the company or certain individuals. We work in a very large organization. We have almost a hundred thousand people at JLL. Without that steering committee, employees wouldn't necessarily know how to get their questions answered. And, frankly, if the company was just putting out emails — “Here are the rules,” without people having a resource to turn to — I think that would've played poorly from a company culture perspective. Allowing people to know that there's a steering committee that is monitoring all the aspects of what’s happening with COVID, and new variants created the feeling that we were all in good hands and that JLL was ahead of the information. If there was a new development, we were likely to hear it from the steering committee even before we heard it on TV.

What are you seeing from JLL’s clients in terms of what they’re looking for in post-pandemic workspaces?

If you’re a company that doesn't have your employees’ safety, wellbeing and interests in mind — why would they get on the train to come into the office? There will be companies that decide employees have the option to be 100 percent virtual, and it’s great that that option will be there for people who want it. But most people want to be able to go outside and engage with their colleagues. The amenities, like collaboration rooms and outdoor spaces, are going to matter. For example, there's a new meeting room setup called “campfire” where people are sitting in a circle instead of at a rectangular table. The circular conference arrangement allows space for video screens for those working remotely so that it seems as though the remote workers are right there with those in the office. Those are cool things! I think the flight to quality for amenities is really going to dictate whether people go into the office or not.

What are some of the key things JLL has learned over the past two years that you’d like to share with other organizations?

We learned that we were prepared. I think we have a lot to be proud of in that sense. We have some of the best technology, and we brag about it, but it was tested during COVID. What we tell people is, “We are a technology firm that specializes in real estate.” We’re as good as the information we keep. Our technology was in place, everyone was working off a laptop. Everybody had access to our main data sets. Now we are creating a lot of virtual technology that helps tour and market space. We helped hundreds — if not thousands — of companies get up to par for how to deal with their office space, how to be ready for COVID and how to be ready for the future. We're going to continue to do that. And we're going to continue to make money that way because it's critical not only to physically working in office space, but to creating a culture that matters.