Downtown Edmonton is set to revive as government and some private company employees start heading back to the office.
As of Monday, employees for the city, the province and companies like Stantec are returning to their downtown offices, some full time, others on a part-time basis.
Returning workers will help reinvigorate the city’s downtown, said Tom Mansfield, acting branch manager for urban planning and economy at the city.
“It’s been impacted quite hard by the number of people not working or shopping or studying downtown,” he told CBC’s Edmonton AM on Monday.
“We really hope and expect that the return of employees downtown … will help to return some vibrancy to our streets and to our parks, provide customers for restaurants and cafes and shops, and just provide that sense of presence that has been missing.”
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Around 3,500 city employees will be returning to the office, joining those who worked downtown through the pandemic.
As of Monday, 70 per cent of the city’s workforce of 12,000 people will be on site.
The Government of Alberta took a phased approach to employees returning to work starting in March, said spokesperson Leah Janzen.
All public service employees are expected to be back by Monday, she said.
There are 26,000 employees working for the province, half of whom worked remotely from home.
“As part of our re-entry approach, the [government] implemented a new hybrid work policy, which provides the opportunity for eligible employees to work from home up to two days per week,” Janzen said.
Around a 1,000 Stantec employees will have returned to their Edmonton offices by Monday, according to Scott Argent, vice president and regional leader for Alberta.
The transition began in March as employees returned either permanently or following a hybrid model.
“We expect that on any given day, we’re probably going to have around 70 per cent of our workforce back in the Edmonton office,” he said.
Through the pandemic, as the majority of employees worked from home, the city’s downtown became a ghost of its former self.
The stretch between 101st Street and 109th Street, once bustling with activity especially during lunch hours, was largely empty at the height of the pandemic.
A number of retail stores and restaurants were forced to close during the period due to the lack of activity.
Earlier plans to return to city and provincial offices in September were derailed by the omicron variant.
With COVID still a concern, Mansfield said the city is prepared to help employees transition safely.
Of city employees, 95 percent are vaccinated.
All employees are required to perform pre-shift screening before leaving home. A rapid antigen test is provided to each employee and if they do feel sick, they will be asked to stay home. The city also has a rapid response process in place if an employee develops symptoms at work.
Mansfield said returning to work was an adjustment for him and believes it will be for others as well.
“But we recognize that being in the workplace really is an important component for building the culture that we’d like to have for a relationship-based city,” he said.