Chicago business leaders push for return to downtown offices

Tuesday, May 11, 2021
What will it take for workers to return to downtown offices? And when?
Many business leaders want to see people return to downtown offices, but what wil it take for workers to agree? And when will it happen?

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago leaders say it's not only safe for workers to return to downtown offices, it's also critical for the city's survival.

World Business Chicago and the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago held a roundtable Tuesday morning to discuss workers returning to their downtown workplaces.

They stressed how critical it is to get the 600,000 people working in downtown buildings pre-pandemic to get back into their offices.

Starting next week, several major downtown buildings, including the Merchandise Mart and the Wrigley Building, will be hosting clinics to get employees vaccinated.

"Even if you can work from home, and many have and have figured it out, think about the shops you walk by from the train to the bus to get to the office and how many of those people need us," said David Casper, CEO, BMO Financial Group. "As a bank that promotes commerce it's a bit of our responsibility."

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Brian Whiting, CEO of Telos Group, said 90% of his staff is back in the office thanks to safety protocol and a financial incentive to get vaccinated.

"Everyone is getting sick of their 600 square foot apartment, not being able to collaborate with others in the office and interact with people in general," said JD Parchetta, who works for Telos Group.

And Telos Group said with employees back in the office for several months now, they have a competitive edge over other commercial real estate firms.

"We are far busier than we've been since mid-2019, and that was a bus period," Whiting said.

Some companies are looking to bring back their employees after Memorial Day.

And other companies are moving at their own pace, as every office is different.

Myrna Farmer said her staff will return to a hybrid schedule and ramp up toward the end for the year. She and other business owners say among the biggest challenges is convincing employees that public transit is safe.

"I think the more of us that come into the office and resume a normal work-life balance downtown, the more we help employees make a decision that it's OK," Farmer said.

Thirty five percent of the state is fully vaccinated and health officials are looking for every way possible to boost that.