‘People are trickling back’: Thousands of workers return to downtown Winnipeg offices

As the sun rises on downtown Winnipeg, Tim Taylor starts his day at Tapper Cuddy LLP amidst his fellow legal scholars and colleagues. It’s a start to the day that would have looked a lot different just a few years ago.

On his drive to work, Taylor, a partner at the firm notices the downtown feels more lively than it did a year ago.

“In the office, it feels back to normal, rush hour feels back to normal, it feels like downtown has a pulse and a busyness,” Taylor said.

In this multi-part series, CTV News Winnipeg surveyed four downtown employers about work-life after the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

He’s just one of thousands of workers that have come back to work downtown since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Coming back to the office has been good, it turns out I actually like the people I work with, so it’s good to enjoy their company during a work day,” Taylor said.

CTV News contacted four of downtown Winnipeg’s notable employers to get a sense of how many workers have returned to their respective offices as of June 2023 and how those numbers compared to how many each employed downtown in 2019.

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

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

Workers began returning to the office in 2022 and 200 of those positions that were at the office in 2019 have now transitioned to call-centre positions that could be operated from home.

For Manitoba Public Insurance, owning CityPlace adds an additional responsibility.

“The vitality of this building depends on the people being in this building,” Jatana said.

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

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

Evan Johnston, executive vice-president of strategy & related businesses at Wawanesa Insurance said they wanted to consolidate their employees in one place.

“We’ve grown, really doubled the size of our employee base here in Winnipeg over the last decade,” Johnston said.

“We’re a strong insurance company, a big employer in Manitoba, and have seen a lot of growth. We wanted to bring all of our folks together in one building and provide them the amenities that they deserve.”

Wawanesa Insurance employees began moving into their new building in February this year and a grand opening was held 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 is a lot more energy downtown,” Johnston said.

“I personally love working downtown. I love the location that we’re in. I love the energy on the streets. You can feel it, maybe more so now than we could a year or so ago.”

Over at Manitoba Hydro, the crown corporation took a phased approach and went from 1,600 employees to more than 1,800 working downtown in 2024.

“We’ve spent a lot of time developing a return to office plan prior to implementing it back in 2022, said Scott Powell, director of corporate communications for Manitoba Hydro.

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

At True North Sports & Entertainment, the business has expanded from 185 employees to 200 post-pandemic.

“We’re a public assembly, 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 that we played in that, so bringing people back as soon as we safely could was important for us.”

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 almost seem back to normal. He says rebuilding downtown is essential.

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

Employers have also noted the liveliness of the core on a given Monday to Friday.

“I’ve been coming to downtown for the last nine years, and after Covid, I would say this is probably the first summer that we’re starting to see more people,” Jatana said.

“Slowly people are trickling back,” Haus said.

“You see more and more people walking through the skywalk, walking on the streets, lining up at different food vendors or different restaurants and seeing those businesses have that business is something that’s great to see.”

How companies invest in downtown by bringing back their employees varies depending on who you talk to. In part two of this series, we will explore the hybrid remote work arrangements and the impact that has brought to downtown Winnipeg. 

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

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