It’s almost two years ago that the world of work, as we once knew it, dissolved into a strange purgatory frenzy between the office and our living rooms, leaving downtown Toronto so empty that wildlife began to take it back.
Despite all possible efforts to lure employees and employers back to their shiny office towers, the financial district remains a relative ghost town compared to what it was before the March 2020 pandemic hit.
We can thank more waves of COVID-19 and the ever-present threat of more outbreaks for the prolongation of this-constantly-distant-work-lifestyle, especially as winter approaches and the number of cases begins to rise again.
Still, with nearly 85 percent of eligible Toronto residents now fully vaccinated, one would expect a large number of desk workers to be left in the office. Not so according to new data from the Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBOT) and Telus – on the contrary, in fact.
The amount of daily workers in the heart of downtown Toronto remains nearly 80 percent below normal, while pandemic problems continue. Image via TRBOT recovery tracker.
“Toronto’s financial district remains devoid of workers, while employment levels remain at pre-pandemic levels throughout the Toronto region,” reads a statement issued by TRBOT this week, citing data from the Telus and Recovery Tracker tool it launched earlier in the fall.
“Recovery Tracker now uses deidentified mobile phone data from Telus Insights to detect trends in the movement of workers and visitors in Toronto and across the Innovation Corridor (including the Greater Toronto, Hamilton and Waterloo regions),” the press release said.
“Recover Tracker is able to access the movements of workers and visitors as they enter and exit important employment areas, known as ‘business districts’.”
Using this data, analysts found that The Financial District was hardest hit in terms of daily worker visits, a drop of a staggering 77 percent since 2019.
That’s an increase over September’s numbers (79.9 percent during pre-pandemic traffic), but not great for the many restaurants and services that rely on office workers at the center to keep their businesses alive.
Consumer spending is rising again in the TRBOT business district labeled ‘Metropolitain Center’, but is still well below pre-pandemic levels. Image via TRBOT Recovery Tracker.
Outside the city’s main center for trade, however, things are not so bad: “The shortage of workers in Toronto’s major city center is less pronounced (34 percent below 2019 levels),” writes TRBOT.
“Across most business districts in Toronto, the number of employees on weekdays is more than 25 percent below the 2019 level.”
Some experts are concerned that this shift may be permanent with so many jobs being either completely remote or hybrid. TRBOT President and CEO Jan De Silva says conditions have simply not been right for workers to return in large numbers yet.
“Workers and visitors are critical of the downtown economy in Toronto and in the center of other cities across the innovation corridor,” De Silva said this week.
“This new data from Telus supports what we have been saying all along – that a more complete recovery first requires workers and visitors to have confidence in public health measures, such as transit and at our borders. This is the only way to force them. return to our pre-pandemic urban centers. “