Downtown Edmonton hopes to be back in business with an anticipated end to working from home

If COVID-19 hospitalization numbers continue to dip, the mandatory work-from-home order will be among measures lifted when the next phase kicks in at the beginning of March.

Mandatory work-from-home order among measures expected to lift on March 1

Chicken For Lunch, a downtown food court restaurant known for its long lineup, has remained open despite a drastic drop in sales. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Downtown businesses that rely on the downtown office crowd are looking forward to seeing Alberta's work-from-home mandate lifted on March 1.

The phased-in lifting of health restrictions, announced Tuesday by Premier Jason Kenney, started this week with the end to Alberta's vaccine passport system and many masking requirements for children and students.

If COVID-19 hospitalization numbers continue to dip, the mandatory work-from-home order will be among measures lifted when the next phase kicks in at the beginning of March.

"I'm very excited," said Amy Quon, who has owned and operated Chicken For Lunch in the Scotia Place food court for nearly 30 years.

"During these two years, we are very, very slow. Look at this food court. There is nobody here because nobody is working in the office," Quon said. 

Work-from-home mandate to be lifted

2 years ago
Duration 2:23
Owners of some downtown Edmonton businesses that rely on office crowd customers are looking forward to the end of the mandate.

She's hoping the removal of the mandate will see employees returning to the office — and customers returning to her food court business.

"Usually the customers line up waiting for me," she said. "Right now I sit down and am waiting for the customer. Very, very bad business now."

Quon doesn't expect change to happen overnight. She believes employees will gradually return to downtown's office buildings, as happened last year after all public health measures were lifted in July.

The Downtown Business Association and other groups have been advocating for months for the work-from-home mandate to be lifted.

"It hasn't made a ton of sense from a public health perspective, and it's been extremely harmful for downtown businesses," said Puneeta McBryan, the association's executive director.

Elisa Zenari, owner of Dalla Tavola Zenari on Rice Howard Way, is excited to see workers return to the nearby office towers in Edmonton's downtown. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

The association has surveyed close to 500 employees whose offices are downtown but have been working from home. The results, expected next week, will provide a sense of employee returns to the office, which will then allow downtown businesses to make plans.

"We'll be able to make better decisions about how we activate downtown," McBryan said. "All of our restaurants, retail shops and personal service businesses will be able to plan their staffing, stock and all that stuff much better. Because really, it's those office workers that kind of are holding all the cards right now."

Businesses are also sorting out the details.

Stantec, which has a tower downtown, expects 50 per cent of its Alberta employees will be back to the office full-time, while the remainder will be a mix of office and home.

Epcor has close to 1,500 workers in its downtown locations, but the company is still reviewing its plan and was not able to provide details.

Elisa Zenari is the owner of Dalla Tavola Zenari, an Italian restaurant that opened during the pandemic in the Kelly Ramsey Building along Rice Howard Way.

Zenari doesn't know what to expect but she's looking forward to it.

"We're a front-facing business. We're a restaurant," she said.

"We really want to see people downtown. That's probably the one thing I'm really looking forward to."


Travis McEwan

Video journalist

Travis McEwan is a video journalist who covers stories ranging from human interest and sports to municipal and provincial issues. Originally from Churchill, Man., Travis has spent the last decade working at CBC Edmonton reporting for web, radio and television. Email story ideas to travis.mcewan@cbc.ca.