Post-COVID work from home is shifting, and for the better: Crain’s Editorial – Crain’s Chicago Business


We’re now seeing and sensing a shift for the first time since the onset of this awful pandemic that maybe—just maybe—this new normal of work from home all week and isolation may actually really be just temporary. 

Earlier this month, at separate events—live and in-person—two new CEOs of important nonprofits in this city took to their respective stages on the same day to enthusiastically thank everyone in attendance for being at their annual fundraisers.

The warmth and happiness from new YWCA Metropolitan Chicago Chief Executive Nicole Robinson, who officially starts in January, and Chicago United Chief Tiffany Hamel Johnson, who was installed at the height of COVID-19 last year, was both infectious and genuine. Most important, their tone in their respective remarks underscored what was felt by most everyone I talked to in those big ballrooms that day: We are back. Together. Safely.

Likewise, here at Crain’s, we’ve also started gathering again. Safely, of course. And, oh man, is it exhilarating.

At the first in-person Crain’s Real Estate Forum in nearly two years, attendees listened to a riveting conversation between one of our senior reporters, Alby Gallun, Loop Capital CEO Jim Reynolds, and producer Derek Dudley about the visionary television and film production company Reynolds and Dudley are building on the South Side.

A great Crain’s event, just like the old times of 20 months or so ago.

Vax cards and masks and wristbands may be the new normal at the moment. But no one I saw paid any mind. The overall mood I’m experiencing at the myriad of live events I’m now attending is one of jubilation. And, yes, thankfulness.

I suspect as more and more of us return to office in the coming weeks and months, we’ll all feel something similar as we reacquaint outside of Zoom. Grateful that we are here and back together.

Much has been written over these past several months about the traditional work routine in which scores of us head downtown or to suburban office parks four or five days a week being over, forever. There’s been lots of handwringing over what the sudden change in mindset means for the city’s central business district and suburban office complexes that dot our region.

But here is what I’m also starting to hear from local executives: Worry that current work-from-home trends might be more detrimental to younger workers who benefit in their growth from working alongside veteran colleagues. Worry about a lack of the spontaneous collaboration that happens in-person, and a worry that without that collaboration, growth and innovation will slow or stall. And there’s the worry that a lack of in-person networking like I’ve experienced the last several weeks in general is bad for business, as we miss out on ideas and introductions to those who can help grow your business.

I’m now seeing and sensing a shift for the first time since the onset of this awful pandemic that maybe—just maybe—this new normal of work from home all week and isolation may actually really be just temporary.

Of course, no one believes that the five-days-in-the-office workweek is coming back. Even before the pandemic, flex time and shorter work weeks were becoming the norm, and for good reason. Scores of studies show that people are actually more productive in environments that are more flexible.

But, increasingly, there are signs that coming back together as safely as we can is good for the work soul.

As I write this, I recognize that we are once again facing another wave of this deadly virus and HR teams around the city are probably gnashing teeth and re-evaluating return-to-work plans.

But there is also much to be thankful for as we carefully gather again with family and friends this holiday season. Of course, we are grateful for modern medicine and what has emerged to fight this pandemic so quickly, as well as the brave and weary frontline health workers who have fought this thing courageously these so many months.

But we are looking ahead to 2022 with increasing optimism that we will see a return to something like normal, with opportunities to collaborate with co-workers and our networks outside of work as well.

Here at Crain’s, we are bullish and have our full slate of events scheduled to be in-person in 2022. Why? We are encouraged by the enthusiasm we see when we do gather together. And in surveys of our readers and past attendees to our events, there is overwhelming anticipation in coming back together.

If you’re ready, we are ready. We can’t wait to see you again.

Jim Kirk

Publisher and executive editor

Crain’s Chicago Business