In February 2021, the Toronto Region Board of Trade, in partnership with Nanos Research, surveyed more than 500 downtown workers to gauge attitudes about returning to work.
Results found that 64% of downtown workers felt safe returning to work, a big change from just six months ago. About 15% stated that they were not comfortable returning to an office setting in the downtown core, with most stating COVID fear as the reason. Only 12% of that group had COVID concerns around their commute that would get them to and from the office.
Board President & CEO Jan De Silva, Nik Nanos and a panel of business leaders discussed the poll findings and the coordinated efforts underway by a Board-led collective, consisting of leaders from the public and private sector, along with medical experts, to ensure a phased, safe and sustainable reopening of Toronto’s business districts.
- Jan De Silva, President and CEO, Toronto Region Board of Trade
- Nik Nanos, Chief Data Scientist and Founder, Nanos Research
- Tess Kalinowski, Reporter, The Toronto Star
- Dr. Bob Bell, Former Deputy Minister of Health and Long-Term Care
- Natalie Poole-Moffatt, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Toronto Transit Commission
- Barb Mason, Group Head and Chief Human Resources Officer, Scotiabank
Jan De Silva: Hello everyone. I'm Jan De Silva, President and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade. Welcome to today's event, Crunching the Numbers, behind a recent poll conducted by Nanos Research for the board. Before we get started, I'd like to acknowledge that Toronto is home to many diverse indigenous peoples. Though you could be watching from anywhere, the board's offices are located on the traditional territory of many indigenous nations. It's important we remember the history of where we gather.
A few opening notes before we get started. Today's events and many of the initiatives we're discussing are funded by the government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. All the board's events are supported by our principal sponsors, the Globe and Mail, Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, and Scotiabank. Today's event will be available on demand with video content posted at supportbusiness.bot.com under webinars and videos.
Technically speaking, select click here to switch stream if your video is lagging or click request help for any other technical issues. And finally, we ask that you use the Q&A feature to the right to ask our panelist questions. For those less familiar with today's discussion, let me share some context. On March 11th, 2020, Ontario was declared in a state of emergency. In the early days, our focus was on understanding how COVID was impacting our 13,500 members and the help they needed to ride out the crisis. But as days and weeks turned into months, and now a second year, our attention turned to mitigations to reopen our economy more fully, safely and sustainably with COVID expected to remain a condition for the coming 12 months.
In October, we began efforts in the downtown Financial District, Canada's largest employment zone. Pre pandemic, it attracted a daytime workforce of 550,000. We're co-chairing our initiative with Mayor Tory, Urban Land Institute, Toronto, and the Financial District BIA. We've convened building owners, large employers, solution providers and public health advisors. All of our panelists today are part of the effort to identify and deploy mitigations in four key areas: safe district with attention on rapid testing, contact tracing and vaccination efforts, safe buildings with upgraded ventilation and air quality, safe workplaces by addressing pinch points and congestion, and safe travel by building confidence in public transit.
We've looked locally and globally for solutions, and they've been vetted by our public health experts. We'll soon be releasing a toolkit with the mitigations we'll be deploying. And in January, we created companion pilot zones in the Pearson Employment Zone and in Scarborough Center, business districts with similarities and differences in their needs to respond to COVID. As public health focuses on beating the pandemic, we're doing what we're capable of, convening business and government to be ready to reopen as soon as it's safe to do so. To learn more and receive updates on these efforts, visit bot.com\getready.
Underpinning our efforts is a strong communication campaign. We're working with building owners and major employers to activate a ready for you campaign to raise public awareness of how we're getting ready. Of course, influencing all of this is public sentiment. The mitigations we identify need to reflect both the concerns and hopes of people who spend time in these districts. So with the expertise of Nanos Research, more than 500 downtown workers were polled. Here to present those findings is the Founder and Chief Data Scientist of Nanos Research, Nik Nanos. And following Nik's presentation, we'll hear from the journalist who broke the story on the poll and our broader efforts, the Toronto Star's Tess Kalinowski. Nik, over to you. The mic is yours.
Nik Nanos: Thanks a lot, Jan. It's hard to believe that it's already been a year and that we're all still kind of working through all this. I'm very happy to share the survey that we did for the Toronto Region Board of Trade. One way to think of this survey is to bring the voice of downtown workers to the table. What do they like about being downtown? How do they feel about coming back downtown? What's the appeal of working downtown, and what's the information and from whom do they want the information? We partnered with the Toronto Region Board of Trade to start to measure what downtown workers think. I'm going to do a quick walkthrough. And the good news is for those of you that are data junkies, go to the Toronto Region Board of Trade website where you can download the full report. So we can go to the first slide.
What's quite interesting when we look at the survey results is that when we ask what I will call a straight up question related to how comfortable or uncomfortable downtown workers are at returning back to work, what's interesting is you can see that more than six out of every 10 downtown workers report that they're comfortable and only 15% say that they're not comfortable. Think of it this way. This is basically a factor of four to one in terms of downtown workers being more likely to be comfortable. This means that they're open. But the interesting thing is that when we unpack the survey, there are certain things that they're interested in knowing about and things that they find appealing and concerns that they have.
And you might be surprised at some of these concerns, but before we get into the concerns, let's advance a slide and take a minute to talk about what people like about working downtown. And this kind of puts a spotlight and provides some insight in terms of the things that appeal to downtown workers when it comes to the downtown. And this is an open-ended question. And an open-ended question means that people can say whatever they want, nothing was introduced. And what's interesting is that when we look at the appeal of downtown Toronto, we see individuals, downtown workers use words like energy, culture, the vibe, convenience. They like to be close to everything, easy access to public transit and being able to commute.
Also identifying that it's where they live because downtown's not just a place of business, it's also a place where many Torontonians live. And what we found was an interesting mix of what I'll say what the appeal is of downtown workers to the downtown. And that it was quite interesting because when they're thinking of the downtown, there might be some people that might be a little more negative. But the fact of the matter is there's overwhelmingly positive associations that downtown workers have with downtown because of the culture and vibrancy there.
That said, if we could advance a slide, we also tested on if they had any concerns. And similar to the previous question, people could say whatever they wanted. What's interesting is that the most popular response when we asked downtown workers what they were concerned about was, I have no concerns. About one out of every four said that they had no concerns whatsoever. And then the top concern after that, and I'll tell you, this might be surprising for some, perhaps not surprising to others, was not COVID-19 and being exposed to the pandemic. It was traffic.
The interesting thing in many of the other studies that we've done for downtown, traffic comes up. So you have to think of these. When people are thinking of downtown, that the concerns are not necessarily related to the pandemic but that experience in getting from home to work. COVID-19 as an unprompted issue of concern was only registered by about 12% or about one out of every 10 respondents. So I think among the findings of the survey, I thought that was the most interesting.
I think we might naturally think that people might be worried about the pandemic, but what's interesting is that the top concern is that there's no concern, then after that is traffic, which is important for the City of Toronto for all the folks who are running the City of Toronto. Pay attention, it's still traffic, it's still the pandemic. We have to think of those things in terms of getting people downtown and them not just having a good experience but also feeling safe.
And if we could advance, we wanted to get an idea of what downtown workers said were important when it comes to kind of working downtown. And the key takeaway here, you can see a lot of green. That means that everything is kind of important. There's still a little bit of a hierarchy, but the key takeaway here is that it doesn't really matter whether you kind of unpack what I'll say workplace importance, neighborhood importance, the importance of public transit and feeling safe, the importance of feeling safe in public spaces.
When we kind of look at all of those, they are all very important drivers that kind of influence downtown workers. What does this mean? This means that we're going to need, and this speaks to Jan's point at the beginning about the communications campaign. This has to be a multifaceted communications campaign that talks about everything. And this is where it's critical for stakeholders, the Board of Trade, businesses and companies, public health officials, the City of Toronto, all work together in order to step up to deal with all these important issues when it comes to individuals feeling safe. And I think there are some significant opportunities out there.
And if we can advance, when we ask who do you want to hear from, at the very top of the list, public health authorities at around 49% as kind of the top ranked issue. And then after that, people wanted to hear from their employer and the City of Toronto. And this speaks to the importance of the partnership between those three stakeholders. There are many stakeholders beyond those three, but for average downtown workers, this three part partnership between business, between the City of Toronto, and between public health officials is critical for making what I'll say the return to work and going back to work absolutely successful.
And let's go into, if we can advance for a sec, we'll go into what type of information people wanted. Quite simply, what they wanted was more information about, more than one out of every two or 51% said that they just wanted to hear that things were safe, but they also wanted details. What are the measures in place in order to make you feel comfortable in returning back to work? And to go back to my comment about the partners, for employers, you have to communicate what measures you're putting in place to create a safe work environment. For the city, you need to kind of explain what measures are in place for people who are taking public transit and who still want to be in public spaces downtown. What are your measures in place in order to make people feel safe? And then they want to hear, of course, from the experts. What do we need to do and how are those measures kind of being implemented?
So let me just wrap up, we'll go to the last slide. I'll be quick and then I'll throw it back to the team. But the five key takeaways from this particular study. First, comfort in returning back to work for downtown workers is strong. Second, people's positive impressions of the downtown remain strong, and those things about it being vibrant, a cultural center, a place to be. This kind of the center of things is still actually quite strong. Three, the concerns about going back to downtown are not necessarily the pandemic. Yes, one out of every 10 say it is the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are other things like traffic that are still factors. And also there's still a significant proportion of downtown workers, the most popular response, that say that they have no concerns in coming back.
The other thing, number four, is we have to think of feelings of safety at work, on the way to work using public transit, and public spaces as being critical kind of junctures and information points that people want. And finally, we have to make sure that those three partners, and thank you Board of Trade for convening this platform, employers, the city and public health officials work closely to get the right information to everyone so that they feel comfortable and understand the measures that are being put in place in order for people to come back to work and to keep our downtown strong. And with that, I'll wrap it up.
Tess Kalinowski: Thanks so much, Nik. Nobody makes numbers less dry than you do. You're very entertaining. I'd like to introduce three people who are going to tell you a little more about what we can expect in the future and how we're going to get there. Dr. Bob Bell is a former deputy minister of long term care and health in Ontario. So probably the most sought after person when the dinner parties resume. Natalie Poole-Moffatt is the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at the TTC. Critical, critical mission through the pandemic and certainly challenge coming up.
And maybe we can kick off with Barb Mason. She's the Chief Human Resources Officer for Scotiabank, a very major employer in the Financial District. We'd like to know, Barb, if you can tell us a little bit about what you see as the role of Scotiabank for its employees in reopening, and have you thought about the kinds of mitigating you'll have to make to accommodate people's public health concerns? Maybe you can tell us how many employees work in the downtown for Scotiabank to start off.
Barb Mason: Thanks very much, Tess. So we would have thousands, probably 8,000, 9,000 in the major core if we take about in the major downtown in our buildings. And to the first part of your question, I would say that we think that our role, first of all, is clear communication, and the second is clear guidance. And so in terms of the premises where our employees are coming into, we have to make sure that they have the information around how those premises are going to be operated, what the mitigation practices are going to be, what they can experience when they come in, and how we view that.
As we think about it, we're using a very slow but steady approach is how we're thinking about it, assuming that we continue to be going from gray to red, to orange, and that vaccination rates go up and up. That's what our current assumptions are. We've had to pivot a number of times as we all have through this period over the last year as we've had experience in different ways, but it's very much focused on communication and guidance and information, access to information. We continue to hold seminars with our medical advisors who give our employees advice and counsel on use of personal protection equipment, on how we've set up our environments for safe working environments, information on vaccines, we're holding a number of those coming up.
And we've also had employees in the workplace. Obviously our frontline bankers who are essential workers when it comes to providing Canadians with banking services, they have been in. So we've been practicing the protocols that we require in an office environment, if you will, for all the way through this in terms of the appropriate protocols when it comes to safety, distancing, masking, sanitizers, all the rest of it, and giving our employees those toolkits. We give them a toolkit of supplies, we give them toolkits around guidance about how to maximize their own personal safety and how the bank is going to operate the environment.
So that's what we see as a major role. So they need to have confidence and trust that the organization is looking out for their best interests, which we are, their health and safety is mandatory, and that we're following public and health and safety guidelines. We're not going to push the envelope, so to speak, on that at all. We need to get that guidance, as Nik said, from public health and safety and go from there.
In terms of mitigation, so first and foremost we do have a small number of employees who are in. They are mission critical. They operate systems, security, infrastructure, those types of things, and they need to be in the physical environment. The vast majority of employees, as we know, are working from home. And so the first thing we've done is setting out education. When those employees come in, they get a toolkit about how the environment is structured, how they have to operate, what the rules and regs are of being in the environment. We've run a number of pilots around the physical space. So like we've done with our branches, we now have physical distancing protocols on all our executive floors. We have distancing, we have seating spaced, we have areas that people are not allowed because it's a congregation environment like a beer store, things like that. So it's very clear on the toolkit around what the physical space is and people know what that is.
In our environments today, like as I said, operation centers or where we have what we call wave zero employees, those who must be in, every day we do safety checks when they come in the front door. So questionnaires. We are testing, rapid testing. So we are one of 12 companies that are participating with the Creative Destruction Labs rapid testing protocols. And we're doing that, again, in those centers where people must come in. They are tested twice a week. They get their test results within 15 minutes of the test. And so we know that if anybody was to test, we haven't had anybody yet, but if somebody was to test positive, then they're immediately going home. They're not in the workforce environment.
We have all the protocols of where you can sit, as I said, in office assignment and seating and everything else. And then we also, the last thing I would say is that there are detailed reentry plans underway now where we stage the reentry based on the density that we can have in any physical space and that density where we're the only tenant in a building, we can control all of that. The tricky part gets when you're in a multi-tenant building and then we're going to work with the landlord. We have to work with landlords to say, "Okay, if we're bringing this many in and other tenants this many, then what's that due to elevator capacity, what's that due to the overall density in the building?"
So that's something we still have to work on in those multi-tenant buildings, but the protocols, the approach, the process that we have for reentry from our business continuity plan, which is what caused us to leave in response to COVID, that reentry is a very planned process and will be communicated very clearly to employees.
Tess Kalinowski: That is a huge challenge.
Barb Mason: It is. There's lots of people thinking and working about it because you also want to, to your point, you want to take the good things that we got out of this experience in terms of technology platforms and flexibility in terms of working arrangements. And you want to embed that as much as you can without making it too complicated. So an employee is going out like, how many rules do I have to follow like this to come back to work? And they also want it to be a productive environment. If the environment is too restricted and there's too many things you can't do, then your productivity is much better at home and all the benefits of social interaction, collaboration, strategic planning, project management, recognition, all the stuff that we love coming to work together to do, it isn't productive for that type of work. So we're watching all of that very careful.
Tess Kalinowski: Thank you. Natalie, can we ask you about your challenge, which the poll shows that more than half of downtown workers have some concern about commuting on public transit and that's critical for Toronto. Nearly 20% of them are concerned about taking transit to work. What's the TTC doing to address those concerns and make people comfortable taking the transit again?
Natalie Poole-M...: Thanks Tess, that's a great question. And I have a few slides that I'd like to show you as I know many of you have not been in our system in a long time. Can we go to the first slide? As you know, the TTC is an essential service that pre pandemic averaged up to 1.7 million rides per day, connecting customers to work, school, social events, and other activities that drive the economy, representing 20% of Canada's total GDP. During the pandemic though, while we were experiencing a reduction in ridership, the TTC continued to carry approximately 300,000 people daily in revenue rides with customers making trips to access essential work, groceries, pharmacies, and care.
For many, public transit is a primary mode of mobility which plays a vital role in the restart and recovery for COVID-19. In January, 2020, we were one of the first systems in North America, if not the first, to significantly boost cleaning and disinfecting of our public spaces and touch points. We are cleaning all vehicles at least twice a day with hospital grade disinfectant, and we're continually enhancing efforts to keep our system safe and resilient to protect not only our customers but our employees health and wellbeing as well. Next slide.
For those of you that have been on the system, you'll see that every station, bus, street car, wheel trans vehicle and train is receiving extra attention multiple times a day on a daily basis. The TTC has been performing significant additional cleaning and disinfecting of all public places with a focus on touch and grab points such as buttons, railings, handles and straps. Hand sanitizer dispensers are available at the main entrance of all subway stations inside the paid area. The dispensers are actually inspected throughout the day to ensure that they're full at all times. And currently, we have distributed over 1.2 million masks to our customers.
The TTC has also continued to promote and implement various safety measures during the pandemic response and restart phases to support employee safety as Barbara pointed out with her teams. Throughout the pandemic, we've worked closely with Toronto Public Health to ensure the health and safety of our employees and customers is paramount in every decision we make, and we don't take that relationship for granted. Next slide.
Some of the enhanced measures include making face masks and coverings mandatory on the TTC as of July 2nd, 2020, providing upgraded face masks, i.e., medical grade, to specific work groups at the TTC. We do active screening of TTC employees at all critical work locations and buildings, which includes piloting our remote screening application on an app for our employees. We've also provided our operators with PPE kits which includes gloves, disinfectant wipes, reusable masks, hand sanitizer, and face shields. And we've installed operator barriers for our bus operators and our wheel trend vehicles. Next slide.
And as you can see... Oops, sorry. Back one slide. I got a little ahead of myself. As you can see, we have done a robust ad campaign for our teams and for our customers. Currently, we're in our second rendition where we have over 50,000 decals across our whole system, and currently the measure steps and approaches that TTC has taken will continue to be from sound advice from TPH with health and safety as our number one priority. And finally, of course, we have our website, which we've updated daily on how to stay safe and use public transit. You can view that at ttc.ca where you can find additional educational materials.
Tess Kalinowski: Excellent. Thank you, Natalie. That was great. Just before we get to Dr. Bell, I'm going to ask Jan to step in and talk a little bit about your introduction where you talked about the economic relevance of places like the Financial District. The Nanos poll suggests people are ready to go back to work, Jan. Can you talk a little bit about why opening the Financial District is so important and what we risk if we don't bring it back to life?
Jan De Silva: Sure. And let me follow in Nik's path by throwing some data at this, which I think really dramatically implicates why this is important. First, as I said in my opening remarks, Tess, the daytime workforce in our downtown Financial District was 550,000 pre pandemic. And we've got 2,400 small businesses with an average of 20 employees each that relied on that daytime workforce as their customer base. So they have been for the better part of a year without a customer base. So it's very critical that we address reopening both for the health and safety of our workers, but also for those businesses.
But a bigger number than the 550,000 is the visitor economy that existed before the pandemic. In 2019, the City of Toronto welcomed 28 million visitors in a single year. That's a lot of customer business for all shapes and sizes of businesses throughout the city. So our ability to focus first on a safe, sustainable reopening for our workforces is just a critical first step towards that broader reopening of the total city when the time is right. So in context, I think it starts with small business. There's also some support issues for our workforces in companies of all shapes and sizes. But then the ultimate goal is to get back to that broader visitor economy because we've lost so many customers because of the conditions of COVID.
Tess Kalinowski: And really it's such a huge thing. You don't really know how many people are involved until somebody puts the numbers like that. Thank you, Jan. Can we move to Dr. Bell for a minute? I'm guessing that you were pretty heartened by the findings in the Nanos poll that showed that public health is a trusted authority in this situation. Workers and everybody are looking for reassurance from health officials. The next two choices, being employers in the city, knowing this, how can public health best communicate guidance about returning to work in the weeks and months that are ahead of us?
Dr. Bob Bell: Thanks Tess. We're talking about numbers here today, crunching the numbers, and Ontarians, Canadians, Torontonians have been used to looking at a variety of numbers over the past years. We interpret the impact in the rise and the fall of the pandemic. And certainly, I applaud the Board of Trade to be planning for reopening safely, recognizing that the situation today, today's numbers, 1,700+ new cases in Ontario, look concerning. Certainly a pandemic third wave many experts are saying may be upon us now.
But another set of numbers, perhaps more encouraging, more than 60,000 inoculations with COVID-19 vaccines being provided in Ontario yesterday. We're hearing about variance of concern raising to more than 45% of new cases. So a lot of numbers coming to us. And of course, we're fortunate in having a remarkably reliable, and obviously from Nik's questions, confidence-inspiring set of public health leaders in Ontario and Canada, and certainly here in Toronto.
Dr. de Villa and her team have protected us over this past year. They've convinced us about the necessary social distancing, masking, and when necessary, staying at home. That's protected us. They've put in place guidelines for us that have kept us safe. And certainly that's part of the interpretation of how our future will unfold with reopening of the Financial District. We're going to be relying on public health. And it's great to hear from Nik's data that people have confidence in the advice that we'll be receiving.
How they're going to do that. Well, the first is the connection, of course, between the city with His Worship The Mayor being a co-chair of the Financial District reopening campaign. We know that in Canada, in Ontario, public health is a municipal responsibility. Our regional board of health leaders in Pearl, in York, in Durham who are responsible for determining transportation, go trains, et cetera, safety related to those facilities that feed our Financial District, all these leaders collaborate. They're all thinking about the various elements that go towards safe reopening. And certainly having the city engaged in this Board of Trade effort is both encouraging and necessary.
I think that Canadians have been getting advice directly from public health leaders. I think that we will anticipate there'll be a strong debate about what sorts of change in our numbers, changes in new cases, the proportion of people that have received one vaccination, two vaccinations, what represents the protection of vaccinations against spreading virus, not only receiving virus but spreading virus. These are elements currently that we simply don't have the numbers for. We don't have all the data.
But this data is becoming available in the scientific literature literally on a daily basis. Our public health leaders at Toronto Public Health have access to all that information. And I think we can be extremely confident that that information will be provided to us in understanding how our society, how our workforce is going to be able to reengage in different kinds of work. Coming back together, I have absolute confidence that we'll be getting constant messaging from our public health leaders.
Tess Kalinowski: It's really critical. As somebody who's in the communications business also, I can attest to the challenges of getting it right and making it clear. I think we'll go back to Barb for a minute. Barb, can we ask, will COVID change the way that employers and workers behave around illness more generally? Everyone's been to work and had their colleagues cough and sniff all over because they don't want to take a day off. Is this going to be socially unacceptable in the future, do you think? And going forward, how are employers and public health authorities going to communicate what's acceptable to take to work in terms of feeling not quite well? How is Scotiabank thinking about that? You're muted, Barb.
Barb Mason: Sorry. I was on mute, the famous statement of the year. So I would say that we've always emphasized when you're sick, stay home. And I would say public health has, every corporation has is that when you're sick, because we don't want any kind of infection in the office environment. What I think has changed, a couple of things, is that we're obviously going to reemphasize it now more than ever as will public health.
But I think now two things. One is that many more of our employees are technologically enabled to work from anywhere. So they might not have been before. Now we have far much higher percent of our employees who can work from home seamlessly. And so the option to continue to do your work when you're not feeling so great but you know you have some key deliverables, you're not that sick, you can still work from home or stay connected from home. So I would say that's a really big thing.
And then the other thing is just more flexibility. Culturally, it was always sort of the badge of honor to come in when you're sick because you're a dedicated employee and you always come in. I think now that there's far more flexibility that we've demonstrated through COVID that it's okay to be home, it's okay to be working from somewhere else. That sort of those cultural myths about people working from home maybe aren't as productive, I think a lot of that has been busted through this COVID experience. And so people knowing that the company is going, you're first and foremost, stay home if you're sick. That message is the same, but now employees are technologically enabled and also have more of that flexible working environment that's conducive to do that.
Tess Kalinowski: Well, Dr. Bell, can we ask you to talk about that a little bit?
Dr. Bob Bell: Yeah. As Barb mentioned, that that sense of people demonstrating their commitment to their job by coming to work sick is certainly a thing in the past tense. And nor has that been more evident than in the healthcare business. I mean, physicians, nurses not wanting to let their colleagues down arriving at work with a cough, a cold, is simply something of the past. We recognize that now. People coming into their workplaces and being asked, "Are you well? Do you have a fever? Do you have any respiratory symptoms, et cetera?"
I think this has been recognized now as part of the personal responsibility. I think that we also see that in accessing healthcare. The rise of virtual healthcare, we're being asked going to pharmacies, coming to physicians' offices, "Are you unwell? If you are unwell, this is not the place to be." So I think the social responsibility of managing one's own health is becoming part of our general social responsibility, and I think we'll see that change. The way that workplaces need to cope with people who are bringing respiratory ailments and other concerns to the workplace, I think we'll see much less of that.
Tess Kalinowski: I think that's good. Nobody needs to sit beside the hero who wants to bring their cold to work. Jan, the board has convened a bunch of business city and medical professionals on all quarters of the city to identify measures needed for a safe reopening. You've shared some of this with me. Can you tell people a little bit more about those initiatives?
Jan De Silva: Sure. And let me just start by saying the group that's working together with us, the building owners, the large employers, have just been invaluable. I mean, Barb's organization, Scotiabank, doesn't just operate in Toronto, they operate in markets globally. Oxford Properties owns buildings all over the world. And through this convening, we've been able to identify best practices that are being deployed in other markets, take a look at them for their deployment here. We've also been able to look locally through our local businesses with solutions and with our local innovation economy.
So we've had a series of roundtables tackling each of those four themes I spoke about before; safe travel, safe district, and so on. Last week, we hosted showcases to highlight the technologies that have been vetted with public health that are being put in place in our buildings and workplaces. Let me just share a couple of quick examples. Siemens, for instance, has implemented wearable badges, your building passes to get in and out around your building. In those wearable badges, they can now identify congestion points. So that can help employers be armed with information around do we need to reconfigure the way the office is situated.
And a key case in point, when Siemens went back to the office last August, they were using this with their own employees and found coffee stations and lunchrooms were the biggest challenges for congestion. We've also got Beaumont, Toronto, which represents all our major building owners, that's created a comprehensive guide of the HVAC best practices that are being deployed to address or help reduce the risk of transmission. So tremendous amount of expertise that we've been able to draw on by bringing together those building owners in our large employer group.
Tess Kalinowski: It's going to be fascinating to see what you come up with going forward. Panelists have been great. If you wouldn't mind hanging on a bit, our audience has some questions, so we'll just go through a few of them. One of them is general. Should we encourage businesses to adopt rapid testing for staff and customers as part of reopening? Barb, I think you've had some experience with the rapid testing. You were speaking about trying that out. Can you talk about the receptivity and how are people going to feel about that going forward in all sorts of venues, not just the workplace but businesses around their workplace?
Barb Mason: Well, I think first of all, the less invasive it becomes over time, they're talking about different methods of doing it, so the less invasive, I think people feel more and more comfortable with it. Certainly our experience has been 100%, like our research amongst all of our employees who are going through that has been absolutely outstanding. A, they don't find it invasive, B, that they find it very convenient. It's all based on an app. You book an appointment and where you want to get it done, and then you go in and the test results are sent within 50 minutes on your phone. And so the experience is excellent.
And then the efficacy of the test is very high. And so they are very happy to do it because it also tells them that everybody within that environment that they're working in has been tested and has had a negative result. And so that makes them feel more confident in the work environment. They're working amongst people who have had a test. And so that in combination with vaccines, and I think we're hearing from public health we should probably continue to wear masks, and in our larger spaces, we'll do social distancing. Those in combination I think will be very good in terms of helping our employees be confident.
Tess Kalinowski: What if somebody is reluctant? Maybe Dr. Bell you could step in. Have you had any experience, Barb, with reluctance?
Barb Mason: No.
Tess Kalinowski: How can you overcome that, Dr. Bell?
Dr. Bob Bell: I think the major response to reluctance is education usually, Tess, especially in the workplace to talk about our joint responsibility to ensure a safe workplace for everybody. And most people respond to that. Obviously there are going to be issues of personal choice that we see already; the choice of choosing to be vaccinated, the choice of choosing to be tested. Certain things. I think we anticipate that if somebody's unwell, getting a COVID test is essential. There's no question as to that and we expect that. But certainly we have to respect some elements of personal choice, but of course, going to a public place, going to a public workplace is not a right, it's a bit of a privilege too. And certainly if you're in a situation where you could be putting others at risk, I think we'll expect some element of social responsibility to play a role in the choices that we make.
Tess Kalinowski: Natalie, somebody asked a related question about the TTC. They want to know, with concerns about traveling on transit, what can and will the TTC do to protect riders from other riders?
Natalie Poole-M...: Yeah, that's a great question. So, as I mentioned earlier, we've handed out 1.2 million masks and we continue to hand out masks daily. We also have vending machines at our stations so people can buy them if they need to. But we've been out there on an education campaign and that's really, to Bob's point, we find the more you educate, the better it is. And right now we are auditing internally and externally, and we are at about 99% for people having their masks and about 95% wearing them correctly. So our special constables and our fair inspectors will go over and have a nice conversation and tell people, "Do you have your mask on right? Here's a mask if you don't have one." And it's been very successful. Of course, we also have to pay attention to the folks that have medical conditions and say they can't wear them. And we're trying to be respectful to that as well, but our compliance has been wonderful.
Tess Kalinowski: Oh, that's good to hear. Just looking down the list of questions. One person from the audience would like to know, Natalie, what's the biggest challenge the TTC has faced in terms of getting your message out there about safety during the pandemic? I'm sure there were bumps on the road, no pun intended.
Natalie Poole-M...: And Tess, you'll probably be the best one to speak to this with me, but the problem is people aren't necessarily looking at the news the same way they used to. So we're looking at a number of different tactics to get our information out there. We've actually put our campaigns in 12 different languages so that we are being able to drill down into the heart of Toronto to make sure everybody can see and hear. We're on radio, we're on TV, we've plastered our stations. We're doing everything we can. Social media, a big push for us as well. So it's all those tools together that gets the message across, because otherwise people are so focused on what's happening in their very own world that they get to a station and they're overwhelmed by all the information that we have there, but all the information is consistent and constant with what Toronto Public Health has said.
Dr. Bob Bell: Tess, if I could just jump in and mention that this diversity that we treasure in the community that we live in certainly reflects how public health gets the message across. And certainly the availability of language in a variety of different cultural approaches has been part of the public health messaging around Toronto. And not only in Toronto, Pearl, and the communities that surround Toronto. That's also been important in the message about vaccine hesitancy or vaccine willingness is probably a better way to describe it. So certainly how we get the message out there is crucial, understanding who leaders in communities are that are trusted and can ensure their colleagues that this approach to getting through the pandemic is the right one, to take a vaccination to protect your own health, to wear masking, to socially distance. The variety of ways in which that message has got out to our culturally diverse communities is impressive.
Tess Kalinowski: Yeah. It's a big reach for sure. Jan, Adam Mauer has this question. What do you believe it's going to take to make staff feel comfortable when they return? What are you hearing sort of across the board? We've had a great response from Natalie and Barb. What do you hear?
Jan De Silva: Well, I think this is key to the communication strategy that we're trying to put in place because what we hear from employees, they're very comfortable in their workplaces. They're very comfortable that their employers are taking care of them. But if we think of the downtown core, it's also, how do we make sure that we can amplify the safety that the TTCs put in place and how it is safe to get through the path system, or to go down to the food court to get lunch. It's the entire package of how we're creating a safe district for return to work. And that's going to be key in terms of the communication that we're about to embark upon with the mitigations that are trying to think of the whole of the experience from the moment an employee leaves their home till they get to their office till they return. It's all the touch points in between.
Tess Kalinowski: That's amazing how many there are, something we all took for granted so recently. There's another question from Tolia Majewski for Dr. Bell. Tolia wants to know what metric is being discussed by public health as the defining factor to give the okay for offices to reopen. Is it a factor of the percent of the population vaccinated, the daily COVID-19 count in the region, and is public health anticipating that masks and two meter distance will remain for a long time even after the pandemic? That's a lot. So tell me if you need a refresher, Bob.
Dr. Bob Bell: No, that's a great question. Part of the answer to that is there's an element of the unknown currently, and that is how well vaccines protect not only against severe illness. We know that they're very effective against severe illness, but how well they protect against transmission of disease as well. There's evolving information on that. It certainly seems that the mRNA vaccines, the Pfizer, Moderna vaccines have an impact on capturing virus from the nasopharynx, from the nose and the throat, but it's not entirely clear whether being protected by antibodies and cellular immunity against getting the illness prevents you from harboring virus that you can actually transmit to others.
And that's part, I think, of the public health calculation that goes into understanding how safe it is to congregate. Certainly I think we anticipate that as financial districts and as social interaction increases with increasing proportions of people completing vaccinations, that the early stages of that experience are still going to rely upon social distancing, they're going to rely upon people masking, unless it becomes very clear that with vaccination you don't transmit virus. So I think some of the answer to your question, Tess, as of yet is not known but it's certainly part of the calculus that public health will be bringing to bear on understanding how safe we are to go back to work.
Tess Kalinowski: Well, I think probably what she wants to know is what we all want to know is when. We have another question from Mike Cobser, and he wants to know, given that more companies will require less space, is there a campaign to draw more employers to the core to replace those losses? Jan, have you heard anything about this?
Jan De Silva: I would say at this point where I'm hearing the building owners having discussion is, the very unfortunate part of this is a lot of the small businesses in the path that have been impacted. And so there's a lot of attention right now to where are the opportunities to reconfigure some of those places to potentially create shared work environments or other things. But at this point, I would say, and I would turn to Barb and others, while our large employers have been reflecting in the early days that maybe work from home could be a permanent condition, I think where thinking is now that possibly it's going to be a hybrid where it'll be potentially the full-time return to work or multiple days a week return to work. So I would say at this point, our expectation is we're not going to see a lot of real estate that's going to become widely available, but I maybe defer part of that to Barb just for some Scotiabank reflection.
Barb Mason: Sure. Well, we've been on a path for the last three years in terms of really changing the work environment that our employees are in. So we modernized it, we made it very much shared space and the work space is customized to the type of work. So if you're in collaborative spaces, you have a collaborative environment. If you're doing individual work, it's individual spaces. So it's very much customized to the type of work. And that has resulted in a significant change in the footprint of the bank in the downtown core with some significant reduction already over the past couple of years, frankly.
We don't see that significantly reducing further. There might be maybe 10% or something like that, but we're very convinced and our employees have told us that, that they love the employee work environment. They like being together. For certain types of work, it's really important, whether it's, as I said, collaboration work, strategic planning, project management, management meetings, team recognition, onboarding employees. You can do all those things with technology, there's no doubt about it, but we believe that that plus how the culture of the company and how we work together and socially we like to interact, that those are all very good reasons and meaningful reasons for why we will want to continue to have people in the downtown core.
And as the next research and Jan's work shows and as our own employee research which we do with them tells us that people do want to come back. And for, again, many of the demographic of our workforce is younger and this is a huge social environment for them too. It's how they connect with people. It's how they create their business networks. And so the chance to be down here, and then again, the next point, the vibe of the city, it's just, it's a wonderfully vibrant place to be. And so people want to recreate that.
There are many companies in the '90s who went to a fully remote work environment. You could ask IBM and others who they believed, "Hey, we could save in real estate. People will love it." They brought people back because employees felt disengaged from the company over time. And it's great. There's wonderful aspects of working at home. But if it's permanent, there is a disengagement factor that happens over time.
And so to Jan's point, more hybrid, more flexibility. People can work at home when it's individual work, they're in the office for, as I said, work that's done better when we're together. That's I think how companies will respond. I won't speak for everybody else, but certainly for ourselves. And so what that means is I don't think there's going to be decimation of the real estate footprint in the downtown core whatsoever. I think it will be repurposed and used for different means. And if there is some that comes open, this has been a very hot real estate market until the pandemic and I would expect that there'll still be huge demand for Toronto as a place to work and live over the long term.
Tess Kalinowski: Yeah. A listener was asking about whether or not Scotiabank would be encouraging people to come back. But I think your answer is yes, but with more flexibility.
Barb Mason: 100%.
Tess Kalinowski: And somebody else wants to know, Jan, what's the Board of Trade doing with its offices in terms of reopening. Have you guys got a plan?
Jan De Silva: We absolutely do. We are actively surveying our workforce now. We're taking our cues from the work we're doing with the Pilot Zone. As soon as it's safe to do so, we absolutely want to be back in the office. And similar to the Nanos poll, our staff is just keen to get back in the office. For a Board of Trade, We have a really cool office. We renovated it about a year before the pandemic. Beautiful collaboration space. We've got about 30% of our staff, we've got about 120 on staff that have never met in person, that have never been to our office. So all the points Barb is making about that engagement, it's so hard to do it virtually. So let me tell you, as soon as we get a green light from Dr. Bell and others, the doors will be opening and we'll be back.
Tess Kalinowski: That's great. How about Natalie? What about the TTC head office, because that's an older building. I've been in there many, many times. It doesn't necessarily seem automatically suited to changing its interior, but have you guys changed anything?
Natalie Poole-M...: We've changed a lot. We have many, many protocols in place. So the building itself, only three people in an elevator signage everywhere. You have to do your remote task beforehand through the app to say all five things you're safe to come in. And then from my perspective with my team, we have an email where I know exactly how many people will be coming in on a given day, I know the spacing, and that was something that was implemented by our chief of safety. So we're on top of this every single day, and mandatory masks. So you have to wear masks on TTC property at all times. So we're doing all of those things. And my team, much like what you've said, I have three team members that started during the pandemic and they haven't met each other all together in one room ever. So it's the same concept. Just doing a lot of virtual meetings cameras on and trying to keep that momentum going when you're away from one another.
Tess Kalinowski: Yeah. It's challenging. We've got a lot of young reporters at the Star and they haven't met their editors or their colleagues. I feel for them. I'm just going to maybe start to wrap up here a little bit, but Dr. Bell, one thing about the Nanos poll that I found really interesting was the fact that people are very concerned about knowing what the rules are and what happens when the rules get broken. How can companies communicate that, companies, businesses, and what's the path to recourse? It's not like people want other people spanked, but like what do you do and how do you make them know where they can go to say I have a concern?
Dr. Bob Bell: Yeah. It's interesting. I think during the pandemic, people have become confused because it's complicated what we're supposed to do, what we're not supposed to do. What does a lockdown mean? What do the various red zones, gray zones, green zones mean? And I think people are always concerned that perhaps people are breaking the rules. I think this is going to be tough for businesses like Scotiabank is making those rules, making bad public health advice simple, understandable. And there are things that we can do to improve that. I mean, simple visual advice like markings on the floor as to socially distance, reminders, as Natalie mentioned, about how elevators can be used. The importance of people knowing that their environment is protected by things like better ventilation that's been designed to reduce the risk of an airborne virus like COVID. I think the sense of security is important to transmit, also making the procedures that are required as simple as possible and messaging, messaging, messaging. The one thing we've learned in the pandemic, you can't message enough.
Tess Kalinowski: That's great. We're being told that we're just about out of time here. So I'm going to take a moment to thank Natalie, Barb, Jan, and Bob, for all your words of wisdom and a little bit more sunshine and hope coming through in your messaging. Thank you.
Jan De Silva: Thank you.
Barb Mason: Thank you very much, Tess.
Natalie Poole-M...: Thank you.
Jan De Silva: Yes. Thanks so much, Tess, for moderating and a big thank you to Nik, to Barb, Natalie and Dr. Bell for bringing your insights and taking the questions from our audience. Look, at this point in an event, I would reflect on our discussion. I'm not going to do that today. I've got a message for our audience. Thank you for joining us, but we need your help. We need your help in spreading the word. We need your help in helping us get ready. So before you log off, if you could take a moment, visit bot.com\getready. That's B-O-T.com\getready, and sign up to receive updates.
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Just as our panel today discussed, look, the next four, five, six months are going to be a major turning point in our ability to reopen our districts, but they're also a major challenge point. As we're getting vaccinated, there are still protocols we're going to need to follow. We can't let fatigue get the best of us. And so we really need everyone's help to resume the strong growth trajectory that our region was on this time more than a year ago. But that's only going to happen if we work together to share information, to coordinate our efforts, to help each of us get ready. So thank you again for being part of that and today's webcast. Have a terrific rest of the day, be well, and we look forward to talking soon. Thank you.