Chicago businesses' return to office plan put on hold over COVID concerns

This week after Labor Day was expected to be a time when workers returned to their offices in droves.

However, the Delta variant and a love for working from home has paused many of those plans.

For most employees at the local pizzeria company, Lou Malnati's, working from home has not been an option.

"You cannot make pizzas remotely," said Mindy Kaplan, Lou Malnati's Senior Director of Communications and Leadership Development.

But Kaplan says about 75 corporate employees in the suburbs will keep working remotely, with the return to office date pushed from September 7 to next month, due to COVID concerns.

"I think the hard thing right now is just to figure out when is the right time. When people feel comfortable coming back, when it's not something they have to do but something that they want to do," Kaplan said.


This was the week many hoped Chicago's Loop would get some of its bustle back, with the expected return of office workers after Labor Day. However, many offices remain dark, as companies push that return to work date to later in the fall or even next year.

"Companies are coming to the realization, it's dawning upon them, that we may actually be not in a period where we can get back to the way it was, where everybody comes into the office. But in fact, this is the way it's going to be for the long term," said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Challenger says the Delta variant certainly plays a role here, but so are workers who don’t want to return to the office full time.

"The Delta variant is really causing safety concerns and their own workers are saying don't make me return and so they put their plans to bring people back on hold," Challenger said.

Challenger says many workers want a hybrid model, which is what Lou Malnati's offers its corporate employees.

"People do like working remotely, so we don't want to have to take that option away completely. But, we do miss that teamwork, that collaboration," Kaplan said.

That's why workers will be asked to be in the office two or three days a week.

Lou Malnati's leaders hope that will start October 4, but like many companies have learned, it's hard to make any promises during a pandemic.