On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, workers pouring out of the Sears Tower looked up as they cleared the building. The World Trade Center had come down about an hour before, and nobody knew what might happen next. Hurrying away, carrying laptops, they scanned the skies.
I know that because I saw it. As employees streamed out of their offices, I was heading toward mine, the Sun-Times newsroom at 401 N. Wabash. I was going into work because that’s what people did in the morning. You went to work.
Not for the past year, of course. COVID-19, a far more deadly disaster — in the United States, closing in on 200 times the toll of 9/11 — creating a chasm between those who could work at home and those who had to risk their lives to draw a paycheck.
I’ve gone into the office three times over the past year, always because I was downtown anyway, going to the library or conducting an interview. Each time, the newsroom was silent and empty. It was grim, unnatural.
When will that change? With millions of doses of vaccine being pumped into millions of arms every day, society is pondering a return to work.
On March 29, Microsoft and Uber are welcoming employees back into their West Coast headquarters.
Not everyone will be going back. A big British paper, the Daily Mirror, is closing its London office. Reporters can work out of their cars or homes.
I can provide some insight of what that’s like. For most of my career, going in to the office was a choice. As a columnist I could work at home and usually did. But I routinely prodded myself to go in, for a variety of reasons. Usually because something specific was happening downtown, an event, interview, meeting, lunch, opera rehearsal. I was hoofing into the paper in 2001 because I joined the editorial board, a five-year detour into being a serious person.
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