These companies are scooping up downtown office space in the middle of a pandemic. We asked them why
The third in our series on the post-pandemic downtown rebound
The person: Nicole Foster, director of web services and Canada public policy
Joined the company: 2018. “I just celebrated my three-year ama-versary (that’s what we call anniversaries here).”
New office sites: 120 Bremner Blvd. and 18 York St., with a third location at 40 King St. W.
Square footage: 500,000
Her favourite thing about working downtown: The buzz of the city centre. Before the pandemic, I commuted to Union Station. I’d step out of the train, and I was immediately surrounded by energy and activity.
Her downtown prediction: People are eager to get back to the office and have face-to-face interaction. It’s hard to collaborate and mentor young people remotely.
Her thoughts on the future of work: The pandemic has demonstrated the opportunity for more flexibility. Some people have set desks, others have pods for single-day use. Plus, when we’re back in the office, I expect things to look and feel different. Right now, when we access the office, we have Covid screenings and temperature checks.
Office set-up: We work in open, hotel-style spaces. We also have new-age booths where you can take calls and plug in your laptop.
Coolest office perk: We have vending machines stocked with headsets, keyboards and cool gadgets you can get by swiping your badge.
Office uniform: Jeans and a blazer, or a dress with boots and a blazer. I ditched all my suits when I joined the company.
The person: Sabrina Geremia, vice-president
Joined the company: 2006
New office site: 65 King St. E.
Square footage: 400,000
Her favourite thing about working downtown: Our tech ecosystem. There’s a real culture of collaboration in the tech community here in Toronto.
Her downtown prediction: I don’t think anything can keep Toronto down. There’s a real pent-up demand to see one another in person again.
Her thoughts on the future of work: A lot of companies are going to be adopting flexible work practices, but there’s no substitute for the face-to-face interactions you get when you’re working in the downtown core. Pre-pandemic, I spent a large portion of my day interacting virtually with clients. But it was also important for us to spend time together in the office.
Office set-up: We’re early in the building process, but the new office will have a mix of open spaces, quiet areas for solo work and plenty of Googley decor. We’ll have 18,000 square feet of terraces, with incredible views of the lakeshore.
Weirdest item on her desk: Before Google, I worked at Ask.com, and its mascot was a British valet named Jeeves. I have a bobblehead of him on my desk.
Desk chair: I’ve been experimenting with a wobble chair. It’s like a stool that has a rounded base, for balancing.
Office uniform: The woman-in-tech uniform—jeans, a blazer and black boots.
The person: Sarah Widmeyer, head of wealth strategies and marketing
Joined the company: February 2019
New office site: 100 Queens Quay E.
Square footage: 85,000
Her favourite thing about working downtown: The people. Not just the ones I work with, but also the shopkeepers, dry cleaners and restaurant and coffee shop workers I see every day. The core is like a city within a city.
Her downtown prediction: I anticipate the financial district will expand eastward. We’re going to be one of the destination buildings in the area—there will be a flagship LCBO on the ground floor, and the Board of Trade is moving in too. It may be early, but I think the neighbourhood will be a hub of activity. The pandemic has been so isolating for so many people. I can’t think of a better place for people to come together than downtown Toronto.
Her thoughts on the future of work: Our work will be adaptive to the lessons we’ve learned during the pandemic—the importance of technology, outdoor space and work-life balance. For some of us, that might mean working from home for part of the week and working downtown for the other part.
Office set-up: The space will be open and full of light, with a modern, sophisticated feel. We’ll have quiet areas for meditation and prayer. And we’ll have spectacular lakefront views.
Office uniform: Lots and lots of suits. I really love Freda’s, a shop downtown, for custom tailoring.
The person: Daniel Habashi, general manager
Joined the company: May 2020
New office site: Liberty Village
His favourite thing about working downtown: All the micro-communities. I love Dundas West and Ossington for the food and coffee. Baldwin Village is like a little gem.
His downtown prediction: We saw all kinds of opportunities in Toronto. As a proud Torontonian, I always thought, why not Toronto? Look at the construction that’s happening, the companies setting up shop, the quality of local businesses. Downtown isn’t going anywhere.
His thoughts on the future of work: People are excited to go back to the office and see their peers outside of a Zoom box. At the same time, the pandemic has taught us that work doesn’t have to be limited by geography. We’re seeing lots of companies—including ours—adapt to a model that lets people work in a way that gives them the most fulfilling experience, while recognizing that work isn’t everything.
Office set-up: We were looking for something open-concept, like what you see in the older buildings of Liberty Village— everything is going to be on one large floor. The office will also be a hub of content creation. We’ll have in-house production studios, and fun nooks and crannies for doing creative work.
Desk chair: Herman Miller’s Aeron chair. I’d try to be that guy on a bouncy ball, but my posture isn’t good enough.
Office uniform: Black shirt and black pants with some unique sneakers. It’s a very Toronto uniform.
The person: Veni Iozzo, executive vice-president, enterprise real estate and workplace transformation
Joined the company: 2007
New office sites: 81 and 141 Bay St.
Square footage: 1.5 million
Staff: about 17,000
Her favourite thing about working downtown: The casual collisions you experience in the core—running into people, grabbing a coffee, having walking meetings.
Her downtown prediction: A lot of downtown life has disappeared over the past year—immigration, university activity. But once those things come back, downtown will return to its pre-pandemic levels.
Her thoughts on the future of work: Some of our workweek will be remote, while some will require employees to be on-site. It’s about finding the best work setting for the outcome we’re trying to produce.
Office set-up: We envisioned the new CIBC SQUARE as a modern campus for our employees. They’ll be able to choose from a variety of desk set-ups—banquettes, harvest tables, standing desks and collaboration areas furnished with couches. We’ll have a “clean desk” policy, so employees will store their belongings in personal storage units at the end of the day. We’ll also have gathering areas, like a micro-market with snacks and drinks.
Coolest office perk: The park connecting our two buildings will have outdoor movies and food markets in the summer and a skating rink in the winter.
Office uniform: Depending on the day, I’ll do a suit or a more casual blazer. I love the Canadian brand Judith and Charles.