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Downtown Winnipeg: Workers Return to Office

Downtown Winnipeg: Workers Return to Office
Downtown Winnipeg: Workers Return to Office

As the sun rises in downtown Winnipeg, Tim Taylor begins his day at Tapper Cuddy LLP surrounded by his legal colleagues. It’s a start to a day that would have looked very different just a few years ago.

On his way to work, Taylor, a partner at the firm, notices that the city center is more vibrant than it was a year ago.

“The office feels normal again, rush hour feels normal again, the city center feels like it has a pulse and a bustle,” Taylor said.

In this multi-part series, CTV News Winnipeg interviewed four city-centre employers about their work lives post-COVID-19 pandemic.

He is just one of thousands of workers who have returned to work downtown since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Going back to the office is good. I actually like the people I work with, so it’s nice to enjoy their company during a workday,” Taylor said.

CTV News reached out to four major employers in downtown Winnipeg to get a sense of how many employees will have returned to their offices in June 2023 and how those numbers compare to the number of workers employed downtown in 2019.

Manitoba Public Insurance, Manitoba Hydro, Wawanesa Insurance and True North Sports & Entertainment each have different numbers.

According to Satvir Jatana, president and CEO of Manitoba Public Insurance, the organization’s workforce traveling to the office has dropped from 1,400 to 1,200.

In 2022, employees began returning to the office, with 200 of the roles that were office-based in 2019 now converted to call center roles that can be performed from home.

For Manitoba Public Insurance, owning CityPlace brings with it an additional responsibility.

“The vitality of this building depends on the people who live there,” Jatana said.

“It’s great to see our employees back in this building. I know I really enjoy interacting with our team in person. It’s great to see the team building, that team engagement and the interaction with each other.”

On the other hand, Wawanesa Insurance’s workforce grew from 1,100 to 1,300 employees in a brand new building.

Evan Johnston, executive vice president of strategy and related businesses at Wawanesa Insurance, said they wanted to bring their employees together in one place.

“We’ve grown over the last 10 years and have actually doubled our workforce here in Winnipeg,” Johnston said.

“We are a strong insurance company, a major employer in Manitoba, and have experienced a lot of growth. We wanted to bring all of our people together in one building and give them the benefits they deserve.”

In February of this year, Wawanesa Insurance employees moved into their new building, with a grand opening in March.

The insurance company sold their former location at 200 Main Street to the Manitoba Metis Federation and Johnston said they are welcoming new tenants into the building at 191 Broadway, which they still own.

“I think there’s a lot more energy in the city center,” Johnston said.

“I personally like working downtown. I like the location where we are. I like the energy on the street. You feel it, maybe more than a year or so ago.”

At Manitoba Hydro, the state-owned enterprise has taken a phased approach, reducing the number of employees in the city centre from 1,600 to just over 1,800 by 2024.

“We spent a lot of time developing a return-to-office plan before implementing it in 2022,” said Scott Powell, director of corporate communications at Manitoba Hydro.

“It’s been a relatively smooth process for us.”

At True North Sports & Entertainment, the number of employees has grown from 185 to 200 after the pandemic.

“We are a public gathering and our downtown community is very important to us,” said Dawn Haus, senior vice president of culture & guest experience and chief people officer for True North Sports & Entertainment.

“We understood the role we played in that, so it was important for us to get people back as quickly and safely as possible.”

Dawn Haus is senior vice-president of culture & guest experience and chief people officer for True North Sports & Entertainment. (Joseph Bernacki/CTV News Winnipeg)

Back at Tapper Cuddy LLP, Taylor says things are almost back to normal. He says rebuilding the city center is essential.

“I think if we’re investing in our city, it’s good to be back in the city center,” Taylor said.

Employers also notice that there is a lot of liveliness in the centre from Monday to Friday.

“I’ve been coming to the city centre for nine years and after Covid this is probably the first summer we’ll see more people,” said Jatana.

“People are slowly coming back,” said Haus.

“You see more and more people walking through the skywalk, walking down the street, queuing at different food stalls or restaurants and it’s great to see those businesses have their customer base.”

How companies are investing in downtown by bringing back their employees varies from person to person. In part two of this series, we’ll explore hybrid remote work arrangements and the impact they’ve had on downtown Winnipeg.

Tim Taylor is a partner at Tapper Cuddy LLP. (Joseph Bernacki/CTV News Winnipeg)