Crain’s-Harris Poll Chicago Executive Pulse: Wave 4

The contours of a post-COVID Chicago business landscape emerge in the latest wave of the Crain’s-Harris Poll Chicago Executive Pulse

A joint research project between Crain’s Chicago Business and The Harris Poll, the Chicago Executive Pulse captures the outlook of local business owners, leaders and executives on a quarterly basis.

In the fourth installment of the series, we found Chicago business leaders are feeling better about conditions in the city overall now than they were a year ago. In fact, 61% of business leaders are satisfied with quality of life in the city — that is, they rate Chicago’s performance as good or excellent — up from 52% in Q3 2020.

And while quality of life isn’t a true economic factor, the year-over-year improvement may be an indicator of future business activity. Nine in 10 executives consider quality of life to be a very or extremely important factor when considering whether to keep business operations in the Chicagoland area.

In general, Chicago executives are more satisfied with the way that local officials are handling business relations – likely a result of eased COVID-19 restrictions and increased support: 57% consider local governments’ attitudes toward business and to current regulations in place to be good or excellent (vs. 47% in Q3 2020).

But reopening the economy doesn’t necessarily mean reopening the office. Though pandemic-related safety guidelines (e.g., mask mandates, social distancing, etc.) are fast-changing, plans to bring employees back to the office – or not – are taking shape.

Only 23% of Chicagoland business leaders with at least one physical office location have committed to maintaining their pre-pandemic workspace after all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted – a decrease of 9 percentage points year-over-year (Q3 2020 to now). In Q3 2020, 32% of business leaders expected to fully reopen their office space.

Notably, enterprise companies (1,000+ employees) in Chicago are returning to the office at a slower rate compared to midsize companies (100-999 employees) – and they’re slightly more likely to give employees the opportunity to work remotely full-time. According to business leaders:

      • 41% of enterprise companies (vs. 55% of midsize companies) expect to operate their offices to 50% capacity within a month, or already do so.
      • 22% of enterprise companies (vs. 39% of midsize companies) expect to operate their offices at 100% capacity within 3 months.
      • 29% of enterprise companies (vs. 23% of midsize companies) won’t bring their full staff onsite for at least a year, if at all.

And as physical office locations do reopen, there’s a caveat: A majority (75%) of Chicagoland business leaders agree that the COVID-19 vaccine should be required for all employees returning to a physical office, unless they are medically unable to do so.

This survey was fielded online from July 9 – July 28, 2021, among a sample of 200 Chicago DMA business executives split between 150 midsize and 50 enterprise firms. Business executives are defined as Business Owner or Equity Partner; President, Chairman, or C-level Executive; Managing Director; Senior Vice President; Vice President; or Director. For more information on methodology, please contact Dami Rosanwo.

Download the full data tables here