At the beginning of the month, I received a flyer from the Wicker Park Athletic Club (WPAC) near my apartment offering a 12-day free trial. I had been thinking about trying this gym for a while, and this was the perfect push. Enthused, I went online to look at the class schedule. Like my current gym, there were plenty of options at 6am and even more at 9am. To my disappointment, however, I saw that on weekdays this particular gym offered no classes with start times between 7 and 8:45am. I wondered if this was an anomaly or part of a broader trend.

WPAC is part of a successful and growing chain of gyms around the city (and Evanston) called Chicago Athletic Clubs (CAC), so I looked at the distribution of its classes’ weekday start times across all eight of its full health club locations. Of the 116 classes with start times of 9:45am or earlier, only 16 start in the seven o’clock hour (none of which are spinning, my prefered activity) compared to 40 starting in the five and six o’clock hours and 38 after nine o’clock. Three of the eight outlets do not have any 7am weekday offerings all. Why?

The class schedule at the CAC gyms is undoubtedly a reflection of current demand: there are no 7am spin classes because no one besides me wants to go. For many people, being ready to go at the gym by 6am is perfectly fine and working 8- or 9-to-5 is a preferred routine.

But at what cost? Would employees be happier if they could sleep an extra hour and work 9:30-to-6 while still fitting in their morning workout? Would a slightly later schedule lead to productivity gains? Would this ease the rush-hour strain on the CTA? With everyone always online, why are set hours and face time (not FaceTime) still so important?

To me, this is a reflection of the work culture ingrained in the city. Chicago, for all its advances as a startup and innovation hub, has not yet embraced the associated type of workforce and worker behavior more commonly seen in other places, such as New York and San Francisco. Anecdotally, we hear more about employers in the Windy City (tech or otherwise) embracing remote salespeople and flex hours, but it’s unclear these trends are truly taking hold in town or if they’re just the buzzwords of the moment. At “traditional” employers, these policies always seem to be mentioned with hesitation noticeable in the interlocutor's voice.

If Chicago’s tech economy grows, there will be a shift in work culture. Employees’ expectations will be different than those today and that will trickle through to non-tech companies, too. I’m not going to expect that this shift will happen overnight - much as I’d like WPAC to offer a smorgasbord of 7am classes - but I hope the city and its workforce embrace it when it happens. There may be benefits far beyond those an HR manager can track.