Finance

Here’s what experts think Wall Street offices will look like in 2030: one app for everything and – finally – a return to more private space

  • With 2020 quickly approaching, Business Insider is polling experts to find out what big changes are in store for Wall Street in the coming decade.
  • After many companies have moved toward open offices, the next decade could bring back more private space – though roomy private offices for every mid-level executive may be a thing of the past. And companies will continue moving outside of expensive cities like New York.  
  • Financial institutions will add amenities that look more like tech companies’ offices, like cafeterias and coffee shops with baristas, but don’t expect barber shops in most offices, real estate experts said. 
  • Tech will take center stage: Mobile apps will replace office badges and physical keys, and entering a building could trigger actions floors away, like coffee brewing. 
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The Wall Street office of the future will likely be seamless: every phone will ping a security sensor automatically when employees walk through the door, eliminating the need for pesky office badges.

That same sensor will send a person’s profile to the front desk, so security staff can greet employees by their first names. Walking into the building triggers a sequence of changes floors away, so by the time employees get off the elevator, their standard coffee order is ready for pickup, their sitting/standing desks are at the right height, and the blinds are appropriately drawn for the time of day. 

With 2020 quickly approaching, Business Insider has been polling experts to find out what big changes are in store for Wall Street in the coming decade, including the office of the future.

Five real estate leaders said finance has largely lagged other industries in implementing forward-thinking offices.

The next decade will see finance playing catch-up, implementing technology and designs that make employees more productive and attract talent, instead of just saving money by eliminating cubicles. But many of these offices won’t be in big cities like New York and San Francisco, as companies add locations in cities that are cheaper both for their bottom lines and their employees. 

“We’ve seen a lot of disruption to date, but I don’t think it even holds a candle to the disruption we’ll see over the next decade,” said Julie Whelan, CBRE’s head of occupier research for the Americas. 

Open office 2.0

Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon told employees last week that the firm’s senior leaders will soon leave their stuffy private offices and sit in an open floorplan. Finance has joined most other industries in moving toward open offices, much to the chagrin of employees who chafe at the loss of privacy and space they say they’ve earned.

Experts said some financial groups, like private equity firms, may retain their private offices as the larger industry has moved toward open seating. But now, finance is seeing the pendulum swing back toward some modicum of privacy. 

“There’s going to be some give-back of private office space, whether it’s to senior employees or employees who deal with a heightened level of security. We’re going to be looking at what the true business demand is as opposed to the trend of ‘we need to get more dense simply because it’s good business,'” said Tyler Kethcart, JLL’s head of business development for experience management.

Lisa Picard, the CEO of Blackstone’s office platform EQ Office, said in the future, “built-in quiet zones” will become the norm, to help ease the auditory overload in open offices. 

“Today, the open work environment has played itself out – meaning organizations that used it for reinforcement of culture and fostering collaboration with moments of concentration saw value,” Picard said. “Those organizations that used this as a way to save money on real estate experienced backlash; just observe those open offices of silent people wearing headphones in front of their screens. The key is to have spatial flexibility.” 

Companies that eliminated private offices and cubicles are adding more breakout spaces, both for individuals and groups. Landlords are increasingly offering such space as an amenity alongside cafeterias and gyms. JLL, for example, runs Chicago’s largest amenity space in the Aon Tower, with a café, games, conference rooms, and more on the 70th floor. Business Insider took photos of the space in May

JLL Cloud lounge

The Aon Center’s 70th floor includes a tenant lounge, gym, and conference rooms.
Meghan Morris/Business Insider

Those spaces will be increasingly necessary as the number of employees per desk jumps when companies add more bodies to floors.

Todd Burns, JLL’s head of project and development services, said he’s seeing ratios increase to as many as four employees per desk in some financial institutions’ divisions, up from one desk for every one employee. And those desks look different: Burns said finance is increasingly adopting the sit-stand desks common at tech companies. 

“My belief is the financial institutions are generally 5-7 years behind everybody else,” he said. In a decade, “offices will look more like tech firms but have the security of the bank.” 

Modeled on tech and enabled by tech

Finance offices’ move toward looking like tech companies will include more amenities like cafeterias and cafés with baristas. 

“And not only a cafeteria, but in that cafeteria you may have options to bring food home because it’s made for you that evening, or dry cleaning or concierge services,” said CBRE’s Whelan. “We’re creating workplaces that make people feel good and that are helping to make their lives easier by relieving outside pressures.”

Both amenities and basic building operations will rely more heavily on technology. There’s been an explosion of investment into real estate tech, called proptech, and real estate is starting to implement this new wave of products. 

“You can’t move in your life without engaging with technology,” Whelan said. “But it seems when we walk through the doors of an office building, it all shuts down. Getting access to WiFi sometimes when you’re a guest in an organization can be really difficult. The idea is we should be creating the same interactions and the ease of our workday with technology in the office just like we do out of the office.”

Building-specific apps will become standard in the next decade. They’ll show local retailers and events; employees at other companies in the building; conference room scheduling; and what other colleagues are in the office. Whelan said facial recognition will also become common, both for security and for directions: You could walk up to a screen that will tell you when and where your next meeting is, with directions to navigate a byzantine office layout. 

Outside the New York bubble

Both to keep costs low and to tap new labor pools, financial institutions have already signaled plans to expand into cheaper markets well outside of New York and San Francisco: PIMCO is hiring for a 200-person office in Austin; BlackRock is building an 1,000-person office in Atlanta; AllianceBernstein is moving much of its New York office to Nashville.

Similarly, JLL’s Burns said he talked to a client this month with space in Washington, DC that’s thinking about a move.

“They’re a financial institution saying, ‘we could do that in Milwaukee just as easily.’ I think you’ll see more of this move from city centers,” he said. 

Hot markets for JLL’s financial clients include Charlotte and Houston. Whelan said CBRE has seen a lot of interest from finance in what real estate calls secondary markets – Phoenix, Tampa, Nashville – and she expects that interest to accelerate. 

“There will be some tertiary markets that start to pop up. We looked at markets we’d consider next-generation where you’d need to be a pioneer from a financial services perspective, like Utah – not Salt Lake City, but going out to Provo; Boise, Idaho; Raleigh Durham; Indianapolis,” Whelan said. “Those are markets we’ll start to hear more about from a financial services perspective that are more overshadowed by the secondary markets now.” 

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