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Bay Street in Canada's financial district in Toronto.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Before the pandemic, Toronto’s Financial District was a beehive of activity. Two and a half years later, the heart of Canada’s corporate world is still not buzzing like it used to, but workers are slowly coming back.

At Commerce Court, a large complex of Art Deco and Brutalist buildings that partially runs along Bay Street, business leaders hope the return-to-office momentum continues, though they’re under no illusions about the future of work. The hybrid model is here to stay, they say, but they believe the office still remains key to building a company’s culture.

“We work best when we’re together in person, and that’s the general direction towards which we’re driving,” said Wojtek Dabrowski, chief communications officer at Dye and Durham, a legal software company. But it’s going to take time and flexibility, he added. “We don’t think a hard mandate is the way to go.”

In the spring, less than 10 per cent of the company’s Toronto-area employees worked from the office regularly, Mr. Dabrowski said. In June, Dye and Durham encouraged people to come into the office at least three days a week. Now, on an average day, roughly 40 per cent of local employees are in the office.

Eventually, they’d like people to come in five days a week – but first they’ll need significantly more space to accommodate everyone who has joined the company since the beginning of the pandemic. ”You’d have a hard time finding a desk right now,” says Mr. Dabrowski.

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Bob MacDonald, chief executive of Mississauga-based Bond Brand Loyalty, a marketing agency, agrees with the flexible approach. Bond has chosen not to introduce a mandate.

“Have people together when they need to be together. Let them work remotely when they need to work remotely,” he said.

Like many workplaces, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday tend to see the most foot traffic, but the numbers fluctuate. Mr. Macdonald estimates that, at most, 60 per cent of the office is full at one time.

“I feel like it’s increasing every week,” he said, and he believes it will ramp up after Labour Day. If it doesn’t, the company may eventually require certain staff to come into the office a few days a week.

But it will never reach 100 per cent. Everyone should expect that, in any given meeting, some people will be joining from “somewhere else in the world, whether it’s a 20-minute drive away or a three-hour flight away,” Mr. Macdonald said.

Hybrid work remains the norm at Metrolinx as well. Employees at the Crown transportation agency are encouraged to come into the office two to three days a week, according to chief spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins.

To ensure people get some face time with others on their team, Metrolinx has also introduced what Ms. Aikins calls “anchor days,” when everyone’s asked to come in.

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Right now, Metrolinx has no plan to implement a strict mandate compelling employees back to the office full time, she said. The Crown agency attempted a return to in-person work several times over the past couple of years just to have their plans quashed by an unexpected wave or lockdown. “You think you know what’s going to happen – and then you don’t,” she said.

It would be difficult to find someone more excited about people returning to the office than Adrian Joaquin, founder of Workhaus, a shared workspace provider with offices in Calgary, Kitchener and Toronto, including at Commerce Court.

“It’s finally, maybe a good time to be a co-working operator again,” Mr. Joaquin said with a laugh. In recent months, Workhaus has seen a significant uptick in business, he said. A big spike is expected in the fall.

Early on in the pandemic, he thinks people took for granted the serendipitous conversations that arise when you’re working together, an intimacy he said can’t be replicated over Zoom.

And when you sell access to office space for a living, Mr. Joaquin said working from home can feel especially wrong: “It’s like working for Coke and drinking Pepsi.”

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