The future of downtown Toronto — will remote workers return to downtown?

Over the past few months, Toronto’s transit system has ramped up service, students have resumed in-person classes, and daycare centers are back in business.

Things are almost like they were before COVID-19 changed the world. But despite the gradual return to normal, you may notice that the city seems emptier.

A November report from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Business Data Lab analyzed pedestrian traffic trends in cities across the country from January 2020 to September 2022. It found that pedestrian traffic in downtown Toronto is 46% lower than before the pandemic – a stark contrast to places like Brampton, Brantford and Barrie, where foot traffic has actually increased.

As the new year approaches, experts say the data provides insight into the continuing trend of remote and hybrid working and its disruptive impact on downtown office spaces, related economic activity and communities. out-of-town travel patterns.

One trend they expect to continue is that employees are pushing to continue working remotely.

« I don’t think it’s something that people are going to give up easily, » said Tricia Williams, director of research at the Toronto-based Future Skills Centre.

If interest rates and unemployment continue to rise, workers may be more willing to compromise. But even then, Williams says, with widespread labor shortages in several sectors, workers « will continue to be choosy about jobs that give them more flexibility. »

“People vote with their feet,” Williams said.

Chamber of Commerce ‘optimistic’ about recovery

According to the chamber of commerce report, Toronto is not the only hub to see reduced traffic. Canada’s largest city did worse than Ottawa, but better than Kitchener and Vancouver. Burnaby, British Columbia and Gatineau, Quebec both saw larger declines in foot traffic.

The decline has been evident in metropolitan centers across the country, but Toronto is in a unique position to recover, said Jennifer van der Valk, vice president of communications and public affairs for the Toronto Region Board of Trade. She says the city is still a place people want to live and work because of its amenities and its status as a tourist destination and transportation hub.

« We really expect the trends to continue on an upward trajectory. We’re feeling pretty bullish, » van der Valk said.

While employees who can work remotely or in a hybrid setting may explain the drop in foot traffic, van der Valk notes that most workers in Toronto have had to work in person throughout the pandemic and continue to commute. regularly in the city.

And while foot traffic is still down, she says tourists and business travelers are coming back — which the local economy welcomes, as a loss of foot traffic can impact economic activity, indicates the report.

« It may actually be a new opportunity for innovation and different types of in-person work to come and surprise us, » van der Valk said.

The future of remote and hybrid working

But the Future Skills Centre, through its own research this year, found that a majority of workers were in favor of remote working, wanting it to continue after the pandemic is over. The center also says most employees want to work full-time remotely and aren’t interested in hybrid schedules.

As foot traffic in Toronto is lower than before the pandemic, the Toronto Region Board of Trade says people are on the move and contributing to the local economy, as well as the gradual return of tourists and residents. business travelers. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

And if companies choose to go against previously established remote and hybrid working arrangements and call workers back to the office, it might not have the desired effect.

“I think there will be more and more talent and skills shortages if employers demand it,” Williams said.

« Because people just can’t afford to live in places where…the median price for a one-bedroom apartment is almost $2,000 a month, » she added. « Flexibility and remote working have been a key survival tactic for workers going through the housing affordability crisis. »

The Commerce report says the increase in foot traffic in cities outside of city centers is consistent with another trend that has emerged during the pandemic: people, particularly remote workers, leaving downtown. city ​​in favor of less densely populated areas nearby.

Van der Valk says it’s likely that the companies and people who fill the void left by these workers will shape a new kind of workforce.

« It may look a little different, but that opportunity to thrive as a city is absolutely there. »


Back to top button