Going back to work won't be business as usual. A group of Chicago companies is creating a playbook to restart Chicago's economy

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Aon is leading a coalition of major Chicago corporations to draw up safe standards for restarting the economy from the coronavirus pandemic, creating a model that the consulting and risk management giant plans to expand to cities throughout the world.

The company, which has its U.S. headquarters in Chicago, said the goal is to create best practices for companies and communities to function in a time when isolation measures are being eased yet a vaccine likely remains months — and possibly years — away.

The coalition includes some of the Chicago area’s biggest and best-known companies, such as McDonald’s, United Airlines, Walgreens, Allstate, Hyatt Hotels and Exelon.

Aon plans to roll out similar coalitions in New York, London, Dublin, Toronto and Singapore over the next 30 days, said Bridget Gainer, vice president of global affairs at Aon.

“There is zero playbook that exists,” Gainer said. “As the economy begins to open up, we have the opportunity as a business community to step up and work together. More information is going to make that recovery stronger and faster.”

The group is in consultation with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Returning to the office won’t be business as usual. Workers are likely to be spaced farther apart and perks such as communal coffee pots are likely to go away, at least for the foreseeable future. Companies also will need to create new work-from-home standards and other policies.

The primary areas of focus are the ways companies work, travel and convene since Illinois workplaces widely shut down in March.

Other large employers at the table include Abbott Laboratories, Accenture, Allstate, Beam Suntory, BMO Harris Bank, CDW, CNA Financial, ComEd, Conagra Brands, Fortune Brands, Jones Lang LaSalle, Mondelez International, Morningstar, Sterling Bay and Zurich North America.

Chicago’s largest employers and property owners already have been discussing measures to reopen offices, including temperature checks, staggered work schedules, contact tracing, face coverings and continued closures of high-rise amenities such as fitness centers and lounges.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month announced recommendations for workplaces, including guidelines for workers to avoid public transportation and drive alone to work, as well as limiting the number of people in elevators. Other measures could include plastic shields around desks and face coverings worn at all times.

The CDC guidelines further highlighted the challenges ahead, particularly in places such as Manhattan and downtown Chicago that have dense concentrations of office skyscrapers.

“This is a critical time for us to come together as a coalition of business leaders in Chicago and leverage our capabilities,” Dan Ryan, president of JLL’s Central Region, said in a statement.

Chicago’s coalition already has had virtual meetings to compare business plans, and Aon plans to have human resources departments and other executives fill out detailed surveys on a range of issues.

Businesses are ramping back up as isolation measures are eased by city and state officials, but mass returns to busy office towers are unlikely in the months to come.

On Wednesday, Chicago moved to phase 3 of its economic recovery, which included reopening businesses such as nail and hair salons and outdoor dining at restaurants. Office buildings never were formally closed, but few workers have been in downtown high-rises since March and there’s no indication of a large-scale return soon.

The survey’s 100-plus questions, guided by experts such as epidemiologists, will cover more ground than how to set up workplaces, and address issues such as working from home, leave policies, health benefits, productivity and engagement, according to Aon.

Results will be compiled over the next 30 days, and the report will be made public. The next wave of cities will be surveyed after Chicago, and the initiative will continue expanding into other cities and countries, according to Aon.

“This coalition of some of the world’s leading organizations will support local leaders to help the economy come back better and stronger than before,” Aon CEO Greg Case said in a statement.

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