70% of Downtown Office Workers Are Planning to Return to the Office, EDBA Survey Shows

As the COVID-19 pandemic wanes and provincial restrictions ease up, a recent Edmonton Downtown Business Association survey reveals that 70% of Downtown employees anticipate returning to their physical offices. Of those returning, 58% will be back in the office by July, followed by 17% returning between August and December.

“We commissioned this survey because we wanted to provide clear, actionable data that would help our downtown small businesses plan their staffing and operations,” says Puneeta McBryan, Executive Director of the Edmonton Downtown Business Association. “What we’ve been hearing from large employers downtown is a lot about flexible and hybrid return to the office plans, which just didn’t provide enough information for the hundreds of small businesses downtown who rely on the 60,000+ office workers as their customer base. We knew we needed to hear directly from these workers about what their plans are.”

To better understand how employees and companies are planning to transition to the workplace, the Edmonton Downtown Business Association conducted a return-to-office survey from January 31 to February 11, 2022. The final sample consisted of 611 surveys completed by Downtown workers.

After almost two years of working remotely from home, employees are most looking forward to engaging with coworkers in the office, significantly more so than other factors like increasing productivity and getting out of the house. 60% of respondents said that seeing/socializing/collaborating with co-workers is the biggest draw to returning to the office, while only 3% said being more productive.

“What’s clear from this survey and from our discussions with downtown employers is that there are downsides to working from home for majority of office workers, and being back in the office at least part-time is essential for collaboration and innovation. No matter how productive employees have been at home, the majority are looking forward to ‘real life’ connection with their teammates. We’ve all seen over the past 2 years how important socialization is for mental health and wellbeing, and that’s a crucial need that the physical workplace fulfills for many people,” says McBryan.

The survey also reveals that employers should be considering their ongoing COVID-19 safety practices. Proof of vaccination from employees (76%) and requiring masks in common areas (58%) were the top two COVID safety measures cited by respondents as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to ensuring confidence in returning to work.

Other factors in the workplace that would increase the likelihood of workers choosing to return to work downtown include:
– Availability of discounted parking (60%)
– Improved air quality and air circulation (56%)
– Proximity to parks and greenspaces (50%)

In the upcoming weeks the EDBA, Downtown businesses, and the City of Edmonton will prepare for the gradual return of workers, stepping up services, programs and initiatives to welcome everyone back to the core. The survey results identified the top areas we can focus on that would increase the likelihood of workers choosing to return to work downtown:
– Outdoor gatherings spaces like patios (63%)
– Restaurant lunch specials (50%)
– Late afternoon or early evening gatherings (50%)
– Additional street cleaning and garbage removal (46%)

EDBA’s plans to welcome back workers and visitors to Downtown include a 300% increase in the association’s street cleaning budget, the return of Downtown Dining Week from March 30 to April 10, as well as a series of cultural events and activations throughout the Downtown core starting in May.

“As our daytime population comes back, we want to ensure that it’s a positive and exciting experience for all. We are so looking forward to reintroducing thousands of Edmontonians to the unique, vibrant Downtown culture, small businesses, and community that can’t be experienced anywhere else in Edmonton.”

About the Survey
Downtown Business Association surveyed Downtown workers between January 31 to February 11, 2022. Respondents were from a mix of public, private, and post-secondary organizations, of varying sizes. 29% percent of respondents are from companies with 500+ employees and 34% are managers or directors. Of the participants, 54% percent are aged 35 to 54, and 59% of the respondents are female.

To arrange an interview, email Tracy Hyatt, Marketing and Communication Manager, thyatt@edmontondowntown.com