Three Essential Truths Driving Workplace Change

Mary Bilbrey

Chief Human Resources Officer at JLL

Learning Objectives

Never before has there been such widespread focus on the built environment and how it contributes to both employee and company productivity. The size, location, and function of an organization's workspaces are being re-evaluated to determine employee accessibility, space utilization, and well-being. Human Resources is on the front lines of navigating these decisions and managing epic workplace norms. Mary will outline three truths that are essential to managing successful re-entry ultimately, driving workplace change.

Key Takeaways:

  • The best talent strategy incorporates the workplace

  • Employee well-being will be at the forefront of the future workplace

"Employee well-being will be at the forefront of the future of the workplace for an indefinite future."

Mary Bilbrey

Chief Human Resources Officer at JLL


Hello, I am Mary Bilbrey. I am the CHRO for Jones Lang LaSalle. I’ve been with JLL for 5 years, and have previously been the head of HR for the Americas prior to becoming the global head of HR. Previous to JLL, I worked at HSBC for over 28 years, and had the opportunity to live in both Chicago, New York, and London, and [unintelligible], and back here in Chicago.

I’m happy to be joining you today from our Chicago offices, our headquarters here in Chicago, to share a little bit about the role of HR in driving the workplace changes as a response to the pandemic. First, a few things about JLL. Our overall purpose is to really shape the future of real estate for a better world. We have over 91,000 employees, and over 300 different corporate offices, and a variety of products and services that we offer to both investor and occupier clients globally.

It’s hard to know really what to expect in terms of coming back to the offices following the post pandemic. We’ve heard and read organizations making bold predictions about the office is dead or we will be 100% back in the offices. We’ve actually seen organizations that have come out with one statement having to shift over time as well. Even as we start to normalize, coming out of the pandemic, we do see operating is still very much in an uncertain environment, especially when it comes to the physical space. It’s difficult to know which headline to believe, as we see different companies taking different strategies. We also see a number of companies changing their strategies as they learn more and hear from their employees.

In my role, I have both HR and the corporate real estate for JLL also rolls up through HR. That’s because we really feel that the two together combined make the right type of talent strategy. I’ve been coming back to the JLL offices now for nearly a year with a few interruptions with new waves of lockdowns. It reminds me of how much the physical space embodies the company culture, its values, and really creates that embodiment of who the company is. For example, one of our hallways, we have a physical reminder of our employees who have won what we call the Champion of Excellence Award. This is a very prominent award for people who have demonstrated our values and embodiment of what the company culture really stands for. We recognize those people, but it’s a reminder as you walk through our spaces, that’s what we stand for and that is a very deep part of the JLL culture.

I believe, and JLL believes, that the office will continue to play an important role in the future of work as a place where people come together to collaborate, innovate, and really foster their sense of belonging. I’m also very passionate about the opportunity that the crisis has provided to us HR professionals to be able to help shape the future of the physical workspace and really incorporate the physical workspace with the rest of our talent strategy, because combined, they really pulled together the full employee experience.

I’d like to share some of the lessons learned that I’ve had and that we’ve had at JLL throughout the pandemic. Really on three different topics. One is that, in fact, the workplace is part of the talent strategy. The combination of the two, really brings them together and creates the entire suite of employee experiences that can really help both attract, retain, and motivate the workforce.

Second is really listening to the employees. We had several types of outreach during the pandemic. Based on the feedback from our employees, we really understood how they were feeling about the support they were getting, the issues that they were having. That shaped a lot of how then we addressed our thinking, to re-entry and support for employees.

Finally, and I think this is no surprise to anybody, but the employee well-being will be at the forefront of the future of the workplace for an indefinite future. Before the pandemic, we were seeing an increasing number of CHROs being involved in the real estate processes. Whether they were actually contributing to the design of or location of the workplaces, we’re actually having the decision making on the overall portfolio. We’ve really seen that that trend has accelerated considerably during the pandemic. Many more CHROs are now part of the decision making and an overall leadership of corporate real estate.

Again, I think companies have come to the realization that using the physical space is very much linked to the overall in a part of our talent strategy. With that in mind, we thought very carefully about how we were going to invite our teams back into our spaces. Most of us left our offices very quickly, and didn’t know what to expect as we started to reopen the offices. The offices were safe and inviting place where we saw that our colleagues where we got together with our friends. This is where the space came together, we came together, to collaborate, to innovate, and really drive the company growth forward.

We’ve been apart for a long time. To bring people back together was really not just about physical safety, which was, of course, a very top priority, but also what was the look in the field going to be. We didn’t want people to come back and feel like they were entering kind of a police crime scene and feeling uncomfortable. So, we created in the USA, a welcoming sort of campaign, including signage that was friendly, and help people understand how it was going to be to be back in the spaces. We provided videos of the workplace ahead of time, so that people could physically actually see what was going to be when they got back, and where they could go, and where we’d have to keep a distance to have the physical distancing for COVID.

We also, importantly though, had to really help our leaders. We created a lot of guidelines and training for managers to have conversations with their employees. As I said, it can’t be a one size fits all approach to bring your teams back, but you need your leaders to really understand how to have those conversations. We each experience the pandemic very individually, so we have to think of it individually as we bring people back and understand the whole person and how it’s going to work best for them.

The second main learning we had was really the importance of listening to our employees. I know that sounds fairly straightforward, but it became really a part of our overall strategy for developing how we were thinking about our employee support and how we created our re-entry strategies. We, at first, started out with daily questions that people could answer quickly on our intranet site. We did a multiple number of engagement surveys to address specific questions about what were their top concerns, and how were they thinking about their ability to continue to do their jobs in a hybrid or remote situation, or how they were feeling about being able to come back into the offices. From that, this helped us really learn or helped us really shape how we created experiences of bringing our teams back together, and sing technology and other tools to support our employees both working remotely and also coming back to the office safely.

We found that by listening to our employees, and then letting our employees know that we were hearing them and showing the actions that we took as a result of listening to our employees, really helped us to build trust. We saw that our employees were more and more willing to share their feedback with us. Higher and higher percentage rates of responses to our outreach. Also, we saw our managers getting much more involved in talking to their employees and reaching out. It became a very positive experience, not only for employees, but for our leaders as well to learn how to stay connected to their teams during not being able to be physically connected in many cases.

Listening to employees, includes both our own employees, but we also did a number of research projects, listening to employees from other parts of different sectors and other companies. We had some insights that we shared from our shaping human experience research, which really identified four kind of personas as we think about how we are workers preferences are going forward. We saw the traditional worker, who really prefers to be full-time in the office, and really is anxious to come back and get back into that routine of having the office as the primary place of doing and conducting their business.

Another type of persona that was identified is called the experience lover, and this is somebody who wants to come into the office, but would like that flexibility of having one or two days working remote as well. They’re really looking for much more of that sort of vibrant sort of working experience. Being back in the office and collaborating, but then also having that flexibility.

The third persona that we identified was called the wellness addic. This is somebody who, while they want to come into the office one or two days a week, their preference is really to work at home or remotely three to four days a week, so they can really balance their work life and well-being priorities.

The fourth, we named sort of the free spirit. This is someone who would like to work from anywhere on a more full time basis, that really enjoys the flexibility and the lifestyle of being able to work from anywhere, and have that flexibility within their day and within their week to how they manage and incorporate their work life priorities.

These were really important personas to think about, because they also helped us then think through our own attempt to bring people back. Use of technology to support those people working in different locations in different ways, but also using our physical space to encourage the reunion of people, especially for things like collaboration and innovation.

The third lesson is really around well-being. I know there’s been a lot of conversations within all rise of leadership talking about the importance of employee well being and now really understanding that it will be something that will be in the forefront of the future of the workplace. As we thought about it at JLL, we really thought about it from a couple different areas. We needed to provide the physical well being and that had to do with both safety and security for our teams. Also, how do we encourage physical well being, especially it was a difficult year in terms of being able to have physical activities in some parts of the world during the different lockdowns.

Very clear early on in the pandemic, the crisis moved from a health crisis to an economic crisis to humanitarian crisis. We really had to elevate how we care for our employees. We thought about well-being in a couple of different categories: physical, mental, financial, and inclusion.

We brought all of our resources together in one place globally, but divided by sort of areas in the countries for people that take a look at their local benefits as well. We thought about employee assistance programs, enhancements to our benefit programs, stress management, physical tips, and made it available in 15 different languages. We created a webinar series around the well-being to give people playlists that they could listen to and really, for people to be able to tailor their well being resources around their own needs. We accelerated the rollout of a virtual learning program, providing 15,000 online courses to continue to focus on employee development during the pandemic.

Even during a time of disruption, skill building is a way to build engagement back with your teams. We realized that we needed to provide more support to our working caregivers, and creating special resources for them, including tools and guidance developed for our well being site. We created webinars about balancing work and family life. We also created a new business resource group called our pace group, parenting and caregivers experience.

Like many of you, we continue to see the impact of the caregiver responsibilities on different parts of our workforce, and we’ll need to continue to provide resources for the caregivers for some time to come. The crisis is put in HR in a new light and a new playing field and is provided the opportunity to make the physical workplace part of the talent strategy.

I hope you’ll join me in thinking about how you can bring your physical workspace into your whole employee experience. Thank you.

Get full Q/N Access

Sign up to Q/N with a few details to watch this presentation.

  • Hidden
  • Hidden