In 2019, JPMorgan Chase & Co. was planning to construct a new New York City headquarters in Manhattan. Then the pandemic hit. During lockdowns, when their HQ stood empty on Madison Avenue, the banking titan’s thinking on the essence of the office itself began to transform. “We certainly learned from the [pandemic] years,” says a JPMorgan spokesperson.
During COVID quarantine measures, it became clear that most, if not all, knowledge-based work around the world could be done at home, in a cafe, or even a mountainside Sprinter van. And while in 2023, empty office buildings across the country are being converted into breweries, vertical farms, and wellness centers bedecked with swimming pools, JPMorgan is betting that the office will remain a sacred space for American work. To back up this real estate investment strategy, the bank is constructing a massive 60-story tower on Midtown Manhattan’s Park Avenue.
The design of the new JPMorgan Chase headquarters focuses not on desks and conference rooms, but air. During the pandemic, air circulation was on the minds of nearly everyone, including Lord Norman Foster, the chief architect of the structure he calls a “breathing building.” JPMorgan’s office headquarters will include twice the amount of fresh air required by Manhattan’s building code. It will be equipped with a state-of-the-art air filtration system for its more than 14,000 workers, some of whom will work at trading-floor desks outfitted with personal climate systems.
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Along with air, light is a core element of JPMC’s office of the future. The building is wrapped in triple-pane glass and equipped with automatic solar shades, attributes designed to optimize natural light. In addition, outdoor space at the new headquarters will be doubled from the previous HQ. Air, light, and (more on this topic soon) gardens: a natural-world triumvirate that are in keeping with the post-pandemic value of doing business in “places that are healthier,” says the bank’s head of real estate. Research suggests, of course, that sunlight and green spaces are key factors in mental health.
JPMorgan Chase’s forthcoming headquarters promises to be at the forefront of trends in co-working spaces. The pandemic shattered the standard American office culture and “supercharged innovation in the workplace,” according to the workplace design firm Zaha Hadid Analytics + Insights.
There’s a growing trend in workplaces that feature garden atriums, the elevation of the natural world through plant life, natural light, and rooftop gardens. Other trends in co-working spaces include libraries with egg-shaped pods and quiet please signage, “air porches” and high-top dining islands, nomad tables, and lounge areas with booths made of natural materials. To tie these locations together, “touchdown spots” are increasingly popular new technologies that let employees punch in from just about anywhere in the building.
Sustainability is one of the biggest trends in new office spaces. Many of these aforementioned features of JPMorgan’s future headquarters work toward the building’s lofty eco-friendly goals. The new office aims to be a net-zero-emissions edifice. It hopes to achieve this in part by:
Another trend in business design elements centers around collaboration. One function of open, verdant, technology-savvy office buildings is that they encourage a culture of teamwork that’s hard to achieve with fully remote work. As JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon argues, working from home “doesn’t work for spontaneous idea generation, it doesn’t work for culture…[What does is] bumping into each other over the day and advancing an idea you just had.”
JPMorgan Chase was one of the businesses on the front lines of pushing back against remote work, especially Dimon, who warned his workers not to get too cozy with working from home. The CEO expressed empathy for his employees who got used to avoiding grueling commutes. “I totally [got] it.”
The future office model for workers in knowledge-based industries seems to be the hybrid work week—one that JPMorgan re-evaluated and ultimately embraced. Forbes reports that nearly 80% of businesses are transitioning to hybrid work models. These companies include titans of varied industries, such as Ford, Microsoft, and OfficeSpace client the New York Times, the latter of which emphasized that the hybrid workspace is a collaborative environment that drives success. Even Zoom’s employees are returning to work in a hybrid capacity.
“The only thing [previously] holding back flexible work arrangements was a failure of imagination,” said the director of the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings. “That failure was remedied in three weeks in March 2020.”
Outside of more dexterous imaginations, another cause of businesses like JPMorgan embracing hybrid employment is that employees the world over want to return to the office. This seems especially true of younger workers. In interviews including the Times’ “What Young Workers Miss Without the ‘Power of Proximity,’ ” Gen Zers and younger Millennials pointed to these benefits of in-person work:
At the core of the office of the future, one element of pandemic-era remote working promises to endure: hominess. IBM’s chief human resources officer spoke of how the company is embracing the ways working remotely during quarantine meant being invited into people’s homes. This quarantine hallmark had everyone feeling “a little more human,” more “dimensional,” as the Harvard Business Review put it. This holdover of pandemic hominess is inspiring office libraries with nooks for deep-focus work, cozier furniture, and dimmable lighting. In the future of offices, it seems that certain designers and leaders will have taken the embers of the best work-from-home feelings and built them into a fire. (And, yes, fireplaces are already becoming a fixture in trendy office spaces.)
In addition to being more like home, the office of the future will likely feature VIP luxuries that most can’t get at home. Right now, the office spaces that are in higher demand are Class A properties—buildings that have, say, cycling alcoves, yoga studios, medical offices, natural spaces, and high walkability. (J.P. Morgan’s future HQ will have all of these, not to mention a modern food hall designed in concert with the founder of Shake Shack. ) Class-A offices like JPMorgan’s have lower vacancy rates than their Class-B and C counterparts. JPMorgan’s emphasis on upscale facilities reflects these larger trends in office real estate.
In the shadow of the Great Resignation, it must be noted that employee-centered trends in the office of the future are partly the result of employees demanding better working spaces. In many American cities, it seems that if businesses want to keep Class A talent, they’ll have to provide Class A properties. If not, workers might simply leave. As one survey conducted by an HR consultancy agency found, nearly 75% of employees between the ages of 18 and 26 are looking for a new employer or are planning to search for one in the next six months.
Having a toweringly desirable office like JPMorgan’s Park Avenue headquarters promises to be a boon to both the bank’s retention of employees and their employees’ production, as well. “The reality is, if you are happier at the workplace if you have a variety of activities that you can extend into the leisure element of the day, then you’re going to be more productive,” argues the architect of the bank’s new headquarters.
JPMorgan lists these benefits of prime office spaces:
This office-as-oasis concept isn’t new. Long before the pandemic, Microsoft, Apple, and Google all had “campuses” where employee well-being was celebrated, free dining options were standard, organic vegetables were gardened, ping-pong tables and collaborative spaces were the norm, on-site hiking trails were groomed, the swimming pools were warm, and upscale shuttles ferried employees to work.
These west-coast tech offices were revenue-generating zones that employers maybe (probably) hoped their employees would come to confuse as home itself. Blurring the lines between one’s domestic space, one’s neighborhood and one’s work might soak up every drop of human productivity, but it can be a pernicious thing, according to the designer of Google’s Mountain View, CA, campus. Employee burnout can result. Family relationships are more apt to wilt. Neighborhood economies might suffer.
Perhaps the difference between those ecosystems of the past and the offices of the future is simple: There’s a sense, and a promise, that employees won’t be permanently swapping their domestic space for office space. They will be at home for longer periods than most anyone could have imagined before COVID-19 quarantines. And the present zeitgeist for in-office work seems to be: when we do gather, we will do so with intentionality, in moments of collaboration or substantive culture-building, not just to “clock in,” not just to make small talk and inside jokes around a coffee urn (features of office culture that, it turns out, not everyone liked).
In the post-fully-remote-work world, there’s a clear sense that successful businesses will keep in mind other pre-pandemic norms that negatively impact certain groups of workers.
In a New York Times survey, some 700 people, including temporary remote workers, gave insight on returning to the office. They noted quirks of office culture and office design they were happy to leave behind. These included:
Return-to-office concerns often centered around racial and gender lines, as well, according to a study of more than ten thousand office workers conducted by a Slack-funded research group. The research found:
As one surveyed info-tech worker put it, “There’s not much point in returning to the office if we’re just going back to the old boys’ club.”
Research suggests age plays a factor, too, when it comes to who still prefers remote working. It has surprised some observers that it has typically been the older members of the workforce who have pushed back against returning to the office. This is partly because these workers—Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers—are more likely to have kids and, thus, more out-of-office pressures. These workers want “more choice, more personalization, and more mobility,” according to architect Arjun Kaicker.
Many company cultures now emphasize diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of a healthy office culture and a prosperous workplace of the future. Along with valuing employee “mental health,” diversity has become central to the argot of HR departments of the future office. (Of course, it remains to be seen how much fidelity to these tenets businesses will ultimately keep.)
JPMorgan is one of these companies that values “diverse recruiting practices [and] training,” according to Dimon, as well as an “inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive.”
It’s becoming evident that thriving in the workplace will likely require the flexible use of artificial intelligence. Generative AI can now write code, resurrect the voice of long-passed literary stars, and read electrocardiograms to diagnose a heart attack. The New York Times piece, “The A.I. Revolution Will Change Work. Nobody Agrees How,” estimates that around three hundred million full-time positions could be affected by automation and that 80 percent of workers will have a tenth of their tasks transformed by AI.
In the banking world, JPMorgan’s Artificial Intelligence Research program is “explor[ing] and advanc[ing] cutting-edge research in the fields of AI and Machine Learning, as well as related fields like Cryptography.” Some goals on JPMorgan’s research agenda include developing and researching AI that can predict and impact economies, AI that fights financial crimes, AI that facilitates the client experience, and AI that empowers their workers’ “productivity, timeliness…experience, and operational efficiencies.”
No matter how artificial intelligence manifests shortly, it is humans who will control corporate culture, work environments, and the world of business. JPMorgan is investing in its human workers, including the ones they’ll hire in the future. Over the next handful of years, the bank plans to spend $350 million on training people for work of the future.
The investment banking firm emphasizes skills over education. Where once JPMorgan required college degrees for many of its financial services positions—including bank tellers—75% of job openings the bank posted in the U.S. in 2018 didn’t require a college degree. Instead of degrees being the de facto qualification for JPMorgan positions, the bank and other financial institutions hope to better “[identify] the skills we need and [to understand] the skills and education our employees have,” according to the bank’s head of human resources. To accomplish this, JPMorgan has paired up with community colleges and social-equity foundations to provide more practical job training.
Operational efficiencies will be one of the challenges to JPMorgan Chase’s new in-office and remote-work model. At the megabank and other hybrid workspaces, these challenges will partly revolve around office occupancy. Businesses that have embraced hybrid work have learned that optimizing the spaces throughout the office—when many workers might not be present—is key to reducing waste.
This is true no matter what class of property workers are returning to, be it JPMorgan’s glass-wrapped Manhattan showpiece or a repurposed industrial warehouse in a middle-American city. Hybrid businesses face vacant spaces, forgotten rooms, and other inefficiencies resulting from the hybrid workflow.
Tools are evolving to help businesses manage office spaces in the hybrid landscape. IoT sensors detect daylight, temperature, and noise. This data allows office designers and business leaders to understand where people like to work, which desk they like to use, what hour a conference room is most popular, which day of the week a wing is vacant, or what hour that wing is jam-packed. Even JPMorgan’s CEO has how many chairs are in the building on his mind.
With room- and desk-occupancy data, employees and facility managers can use office booking software, desk hoteling, hot desking, and free-address seating to find the optimal space for those key moments of collaboration or creative solitude. Some firms are even using AI to create floor designs that ergonomically orchestrate desks, a.c. units, elevators, staircases, espresso bars, dining tables, lighting, furniture, and every other Class A amenity these offices of the future offer.
To avoid wasted spaces in their hybrid working model, JPMorgan’s office of the future will have the ability to shape-shift. Its furniture, desks, chairs—even its walls—all have been designed to be moved easily and efficiently. An entire floor can be redesigned over a weekend. The flexible nature of the bank’s hybrid-work model is reflected in the actual brick-and-mortar of JPMorgan’s headquarters itself. This ability to change is the crux of the office of the future, according to the bank’s global director of real estate, who muses, “How can you future-proof a space? You make it flexible.”
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