As we navigate the Post-Pandemic era, the dynamics of work culture are witnessing a significant transformation. The Windy City, Chicago, is at the heart of these changes. Remote work has seen an unprecedented surge during the pandemic, with Illinois ranking among the top three states experiencing a boom in remote workers. However, this trend isn’t merely a fleeting response to the pandemic—it represents a fundamental evolution in how we conceptualize and approach work.

The Rise of the Hybrid Work Model

Many younger employees are gravitating towards a hybrid work model, dividing their time between the office and home. Data tells us the number of fully paid working days from home exceeded 60% in May, and the proportion of US employees working remotely at least one day a week rose five-fold from 2019 to 2023.

Challenges for Organizations and Employees

For organizations, the most significant challenge lies in adjusting their strategies to accommodate remote work. With over 25% of workers in Illinois now working fully from home, cities like Chicago are grappling to adapt.

For employees, the concerns are different. The isolation that accompanies remote work, the lack of team spirit and support, and the absence of mentorship and socialization opportunities are some of the downsides they face. 

Let’s explore several major benefits to a physical work environment:

1. Belonging and Community

When you see your coworkers every day, you naturally develop a rapport with them. Physical workspaces help employees foster relationships with their colleagues. This is essential for building trust, improving collaboration, and creating a sense of belonging and community.

2. Improved Communication

Body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice carry a lot of meaning, which can get lost in translation via online communication. Working in a physical office helps you communicate in a more natural, and immediate, way.

3. Maintaining Productivity

With a designated workspace separate from the home environment, employees can mentally switch into “work mode” and minimize distractions. Working in an office can also provide access to tools and resources that may not be available in a home office, such as software and specialized equipment. 

4. Preserving a More Concrete Work-Life Balance

While working from home can save you from a commute, it’s crucial to note that work life balance can be a much harder line to walk for remote workers. Remote workers clocked in over 40 hours a week, 43% more compared to workers who never worked remotely. This statistic suggests that while remote work offers flexibility, it can also blur the boundaries between personal and professional life, potentially leading to overwork and burnout.

5. Providing Opportunities for Professional Development

Being in a physical office provides unique opportunities for hands-on learning that simply cannot be replicated online. While online training has its perks, face-to-face training can be more interactive and engaging than online sessions. Further, the opportunity for mentor relationships often comes from regular interaction – allowing seasoned, experienced employees to pass on knowledge to newer generations within the company. 

Looking Forward

As we continue to adapt and grow, we will most likely see changes to both office and public city spaces – with a focus on virtual meeting space that can accommodate a hybrid work-week for employees, and new “work from anywhere” environments created to allow remote workers a space to free themselves from the distractions at home, while choosing the environment they work in.

While the evolution of working from home in Chicago represents a shift in our definition of work culture, it also presents opportunities. Companies have the opportunity to redefine their strategies and office environments, and employees can reimagine their work-life balance – all with a focus on getting back to work. Research and productivity continue to show us the benefits of “going to work.” Even if a 9 to 5 p.m. schedule falls away, it is clear – having an office space will always benefit both employee and employer.