Earlier this month, two new CEOs of major nonprofits in the city took to their respective stages at separate events – live and in person – on the same day to thank everyone for participating in their annual fundraiser.

The warmth and joy of the 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 contagious and real. Most importantly, their tone of voice in their respective comments emphasizes what most of the people I spoke to in those grand ballrooms that day felt: We’re back. Together. Secure.

Here at Crain’s, too, we’ve started gathering again. Of course, sure. And, oh man, it’s exhilarating.

At the first personal Crain Real Estate Forum in almost two years, attendees overheard an engaging 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 build on the south side.

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

Vax cards and masks and bracelets may be the new normal right now. But no one I saw cared about it. The general mood I get at the myriad live events that I now attend is one of cheer. And yes, gratitude.

I suspect that as more of us return to the office in the weeks and months to come, we will all feel something similar when we recognize each other outside of Zoom. Grateful to be here and back together.

Much has been written in recent months about the fact that the traditional day-to-day work, where many of us go downtown or suburban offices four or five days a week, is gone forever. There has been much discussion about what the sudden shift in mindset means for the city’s central business district and office complexes in the suburbs of our region.

But this is also what I hear from local executives: Concern that current home working trends could be detrimental to younger workers who will benefit from working with seasoned colleagues in their growth. Worry about the lack of on-the-fly collaboration that happens in person and worry that without that collaboration, growth and innovation will slow or stall. And there’s a concern that a lack of personal networking, like the one I’ve seen in general over the past few weeks, is bad for business as we miss out on ideas and introductions to those that can help grow your business.

I am now seeing and feeling, for the first time since this terrible pandemic began, a shift that maybe – just maybe – this new normal of working from home all week and isolation can actually only be temporary.

Of course, nobody believes that the five-day work week in the office is coming back. Even before the pandemic, flextime and shorter working weeks had become the norm, and for good reason. Numerous studies show that people are actually more productive in more flexible environments.

But there is growing evidence that it is good for the work soul to get back together as safely as possible.

As I write this, I realize that we are facing yet another wave of this deadly virus, and HR teams across town are likely to be grinding their teeth and re-evaluating plans for getting back to work.

But there is also much we can be thankful for when we carefully gather together with family and friends again this Christmas season. Of course, we are grateful for modern medicine and what has emerged to help fight this pandemic so quickly, as well as the courageous and tired health workers on the front lines who have bravely fought this cause over these so many months.

But we look to the year 2022 with increasing optimism that we will experience a return to normalcy, with opportunities to collaborate with colleagues and our networks outside of work.

Here at Crain’s we are optimistic and have our entire event schedule planned for 2022. Why? We are encouraged by the enthusiasm we see when we meet. And in surveys of our readers and former participants of our events, the anticipation to see us again is overwhelming.

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

Jim Kirk
Publisher and editor-in-chief
Crain’s Chicago business