Take a look inside a real estate giant's stunning Chicago headquarters, with a 16,000 square foot gym and panoramic views of the city

JLL Cloud loungeThe Aon Center's 70th floor includes a tenant lounge, gym, and conference rooms.Meghan Morris/Business Insider

  • One of Chicago's biggest office buildings recently added a ton of amenities, like a 16,000 square foot gym and meeting space, with panoramic views of the city.
  • The Aon Center building now boasts the city's largest amenity space, with a café, games, work space, and more, run by real estate company JLL.
  • JLL redesigned the lobby, amenity floor, and its own six-floor headquarters within the building.
  • Before the revamp, JLL spent two years surveying and interviewing the 900 employees who worked in the building. That changed how leadership thought about everything from location to design, the head of JLL's workplace strategy practice told Business Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Chicago's Aon Center might not win any awards for most interesting building from the outside - the 83-floor office building is one gray, long rectangle that towers over Millennium Park.

Inside, however, recent renovations now allow employees to exercise, play games, host meetings, and sip lattes with panoramic views of the city from the 70th floor. Later this spring, they'll be able to have cocktails there, too.

JLL, the world's second-largest real-estate company, embarked on major upgrades to the building that reshaped common spaces like the lobby and amenities floor, as well as its six-floor headquarters.

See more: We visited the new San Francisco office of $19 billion Atlassian, where every little detail is designed to help people work together

Before reworking its own floors, JLL spent two years surveying and interviewing the firm's 900 local employees, which led to a number of surprises, Ed Nolan, the head of the firm's workplace strategy practice, told Business Insider. For example, the company's leadership assumed most employees commuted in from the suburbs, but the survey found half came in by public transit, ride-sharing services, walking, and biking.

Understanding that the workforce was more urbanized than executives thought led the company to stay in the Aon Center, even though the building is farther from commuter trains connected to the suburbs than many other offices.

Nolan said JLL undertook the renovations with three principles in mind:

  1. Agility: Before the renovations, the office floor plan was 80% assigned - employees had cubicles or offices. Now, only 50% is, with the rest of the floorplan dedicated to shared space, like phone booths and small conference rooms. JLL's headcount grew from 900 to 1,400, but the firm still occupies the same six floors, thanks to a smaller per-employee footprint.
  2. Connection: Employees felt siloed in their previous cubicles or office space, disconnected from the larger company, so the company added a 3,000 square foot lounge. Nolan said it's now common for employees to spend three or four hours working in the club space, rather than at their desks. Two staircases, one in the club and another near reception, are also meant to foster more connection than riding in an elevator.
  3. Choice: Gone are the cubicles, in are options to work at a rolling desk, private room, conference room, lounge, kitchen, and other areas.

We toured the office and amenity center to see how those principles look in action.

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The Aon Center's lobby renovations include more seating and electronic check-in for employees without badges.

The Aon Center's lobby renovations include more seating and electronic check-in for employees without badges.

The electronic check-in option for employees who forget their badges has significantly reduced wait times at the main security desk.

JLL's reception area includes work stations for employees and guests, along with a "technology concierge" to handle any conference room issues.

JLL's reception area includes work stations for employees and guests, along with a "technology concierge" to handle any conference room issues.

The reception area for JLL's headquarters was designed to be more inviting than a few couches, with work areas, power outlets, and views of Lake Michigan for visitors and employees alike.

No more corner offices: JLL's 36-foot work stations include electronic standing desks and wheels, so they can be configured for any occasion.

No more corner offices: JLL's 36-foot work stations include electronic standing desks and wheels, so they can be configured for any occasion.

Even executives use the work stations, which can be rolled around for group projects. A button raises the desk, since JLL believes "standing is the new smoking," said Nolan.

When he gives tours to JLL's clients, they often ask executives if they'd prefer to leave their workstation and return to having private offices. So far, none have said yes – even though before the move, "they weren't necessarily believers when we were convincing them of this," he said.

JLL prioritized smaller individual and group meeting rooms over large conference rooms, finding the latter were under-utilized.

JLL prioritized smaller individual and group meeting rooms over large conference rooms, finding the latter were under-utilized.

Some of the rooms for group huddles can be booked, while others, including the smaller phone call rooms, are first come, first serve. The rooms offer privacy for sensitive conversations or just a quiet place to work. The average meeting rooms are now set up for two to four people, rather than a full board-style conference room.

"The Lab" is a conference room with rolling desks that can be configured into smaller "pods" for group work, and an audio/visual system that connects multiple offices.

"The Lab" is a conference room with rolling desks that can be configured into smaller "pods" for group work, and an audio/visual system that connects multiple offices.

JLL often uses the room for tech demonstrations.

Open kitchens corrected employees' complaints about the galley-style kitchens.

Open kitchens corrected employees' complaints about the galley-style kitchens.

Booths in the kitchen were designed to eliminate noise, providing quiet areas for eating and working.

Booths in the kitchen were designed to eliminate noise, providing quiet areas for eating and working.

A two-story club room provides a central working, meeting, and networking spot for JLL employees.

A two-story club room provides a central working, meeting, and networking spot for JLL employees.

The club is "strategically placed" between two major JLL businesses – markets and corporate solutions – to better foster "casual collision" between employees, said Nolan. The club was inspired by an airport lounge and has some movable seating.

Two full-time baristas staff the bar, which also has cold brew and kombucha on tap.

Two full-time baristas staff the bar, which also has cold brew and kombucha on tap.

The café can become a bar when the club hosts events.

The club can be converted into a 4,000 square foot event space by removing a retractable wall to an open room, largely used for training, next door.

The club can be converted into a 4,000 square foot event space by removing a retractable wall to an open room, largely used for training, next door.

Both JLL's office and the Cloud Level offer 360-views of Chicago. The south-facing windows overlook Millennium Park.

Both JLL's office and the Cloud Level offer 360-views of Chicago. The south-facing windows overlook Millennium Park.

Cloud Level: Aon Center's amenities floor is open to all building tenants.

Cloud Level: Aon Center's amenities floor is open to all building tenants.

Cloud Level opened this spring on the 70th floor with 34,000 square feet of amenity space, including a café, for all the employees who work in Aon Center. A bar will open later this quarter, with specialty cocktails on the menu.

Not all work: Cloud Level includes several game options, including pool, Connect Four, and shuffleboard.

Not all work: Cloud Level includes several game options, including pool, Connect Four, and shuffleboard.

Cloud Level includes open space for relaxing and working, as well as private areas to hold meetings.

Cloud Level includes open space for relaxing and working, as well as private areas to hold meetings.

Two libraries offer space to work, meet, and read – the books are real. A separate conference room area has a few rooms of varying sizes for more private meetings.

Two libraries offer space to work, meet, and read – the books are real. A separate conference room area has a few rooms of varying sizes for more private meetings.

Peak, the building's fitness center, includes full locker room facilities.

Peak, the building's fitness center, includes full locker room facilities.

Some Aon Center tenants pay their employees' memberships. The rest can pay $120 per year for the gym, which also has a studio for yoga and other group classes.

Some Aon Center tenants pay their employees' memberships. The rest can pay $120 per year for the gym, which also has a studio for yoga and other group classes.
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