More than 80% of Chicago executives say employees will return to offices by spring

Tenants redesigning offices, adding amenities to entice employees back


A majority of Chicago workers will be back in their offices by April, according to a survey of local business leaders by Chicago Returns, a group of professionals who advocated a return to normal downtown activity, Bisnow reported. Most of the 68 participants also said workers would come into the office at least three days a week.

“It’s not a question of if but when we will return to the office,” said Farzin Parang, executive director of The Business Owners and Managers Association of Chicago.

Chicago’s office market, like the rest of the country’s, has struggled with high vacancy rates since the pandemic. About 19.7 percent of offices were vacant in the fourth quarter, the second-highest on record. As companies plan on opening up workspaces for employees, tenants are figuring out office footprints and providing amenities that people working from home didn’t have.

“People are still waiting to see what Covid’s permanent impact will be, so they’re not going in and doing wholesale renovations,” said JLL Senior Managing Director Steve Steinmeyer, a member of Chicago Returns.

Local real estate firm Telos signed 18 new tenants last year totaling 150,000 square feet at the 1.2 million-square-foot One South Wacker Drive in the West Loop. Other buildings owned by Telos also signed new leases, according to Nikki Kern, Telos Group’s senior vice president.

While some tenants have downsized, many are still pondering options to bring employees together in a new space. Office footprints aren’t changing much, an indication that most firms will initially make only modest changes, said Kern.

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“It’s not like we’re seeing people dump office space,” she said.

The transition to return-to-office translates to an overflow of design service requests for interior architects.

The key to new spaces after switching to hybrid work will be features that will entice workers to offices, said Micahel Reinhart, practice leader at local architect firm Perkins & Will.

Spaces for employees to make presentations, building amenities including bars, gyms, and other common areas that help employees feel less isolated after two years of the pandemic, coupled with private space with small huddle rooms are expected.

“It’s going to be a combination of all these things,” said Reinhart. “Everyone needs to ask, ‘What is the office going to provide that people didn’t have while working from home?’”

[Bisnow] – Connie Kim

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