By Lauren Victory

CHICAGO (CBS) — Several people are returning to the office after the July 4 holiday,  and even more are expected back after Labor Day.

Others will never be there again.

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Could permanent work-from-home leave some Chicago office buildings empty forever? Morning Insider Lauren Victory takes us inside one company’s decision to vacate the premises.

Like many offices, Chicago’s Aquent location is a corporate ghost town. You can hear a pin drop and feel rent money burning.

The last time Monika Jedrzejek sat at her desk was about a year and a half ago. The business development manager will never sit there or in Aquent’s conference room again. Working from home just became permanent.

“From the commute time, to getting here, to waiting until everyone gets into the room,” Jedrzejek explained all the time-saving aspects of remote working.

But what about saving money? The company still has about three years left on its Chicago lease.

“We have the flexibility to release the space when we find a subtenant,” said Erin Bloom, the head of Culture and Community at Aquent.

CBS 2 asked her what would happen if a subletter isn’t found.

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“I think we’ll get creative about it,” said Bloom.

Creativity has been and will be key to the future of the Chicago metro area. An estimated 19% of office space is available according to Kris Keller, regional director for Keller Williams OneChicago, which is a commercial real estate firm.

“We’re 30% higher now than we were during the Great Recession,” said Keller of availability, which refers to open space on the market, not necessarily “vacancies.”

Keller knows of businesses that have had leases expire but have chosen not to renew. Others have worked out deals where they only rent a portion of their usual space.

“Landlords are much more willing to give up lease concessions such as free rent, tenant improvement allowances,” said Keller who does not expect a mass exodus of office workers from our downtown because it is very difficult to break a lease. Large companies tend to have long-term leases.

Keller was careful not to predict what might happen to the commercial real estate market but he wouldn’t be surprised if subletting gets really competitive.

Aquent’s Bloom says permanent work from home is worth the risk.

You could argue the staffing agency would know what retains and recruits employees best – consider Jedrzejek’s reaction when she found out she’d never have to return to the office.

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“We were just like, ‘Yes!’” she said enthusiastically.

Lauren Victory