Toronto

Stuck in Traffic: Corporate perks keep Gen Y downtown

Downtown-dwelling workers who are averse to long commutes are among those that big companies are working hard to attract.

Google and Coca-Cola among companies that have offices in downtown Toronto

Sari Katz has the kind of commute most people in the Greater Toronto Area can only dream of.

"It takes, by bike, six or seven minutes," the 26-year old says about her ride to work at Google Canada's headquarters in the heart of downtown Toronto.

Katz works in advertising sales, and arrives at her desk each morning before most have had a chance to warm up their car, or get on the bus.

"It makes waking up in the morning that much easier, I know it doesn't take me half an hour to get to work."

She represents the new workforce that employers are working hard to attract. Young, downtown-dwelling, they cycle and walk and most importantly are averse to long commutes.

The new workforce

Google specifically targets that demographic when it chooses where to locate, says Leslie Church a Google Canada spokesperson.

A week-long series. (CBC)

This week CBC Toronto focuses on traffic and looks for solutions to our increasing gridlock. Listen to Metro Morning, and watch CBC News Toronto for stories from Mary Wiens and Steve D'Souza.

"They're young, they're urban, they're engaged, they're the type of people that want to ride their bikes to work or jump on a streetcar and get here quickly," she says, noting it's a philosophy Google uses worldwide.

Katz says only about a tenth of her friends own cars and, apart from Google's reputation and prestige, location was a major factor in her job search.

"From a financial perspective of having to buy a car and pay for insurance and gas and parking, none of that was really ideal." she says. "Even taking the subway for an hour a day wasn't really something that I wanted to do."

Beyond location, Google offers employees a $150 a month travel subsidy that can be used for anything from transit passes to bike maintenance.

Church says about one-third of employees at the Toronto office bike to work. Google offers them a private bike cage, locker room, showers and a gym.

The company also offers free parking for carpoolers, access to TTC tokens for off-site meetings, and Bixi bike sharing. It suits Katz's lifestyle perfectly:

"I love living downtown," she says. "Just the culture of living down here, and ambiance of living downtown, is really important to me."

Businesses coming back

Along with the dozens of condos popping up in and around downtown Toronto comes young workers that big companies are eager to attract.

In 2009, Telus combined more than a dozen offices into one office tower beside the Air Canada Centre. SNC-Lavalin also recently left a business park in Etobicoke and has taken up residency next door.

Saleforce.com's largest office outside of the U.S. sits at Bay Street and Queens Quay. Coca-Cola Canada is the latest to join the pack. More than 400 employees moved into a new headquarters earlier this month near King and Sherbourne.

'I like to go home sometimes on lunch to walk my dog and if Google was far outside of the (downtown) core, I wouldn't be able to do it'—Sari Katz, Google Canada employee

Vice-president of human resources Tova White says the move was two-and-a-half years in the making. Employees were given a detailed survey, asked everything from how they wanted to get to work, to what facilities they wanted in a new workspace.

White says they also had to strike a balance between the older, more experienced workforce and the needs of Generation Y.

"They'd love a coffee shop to work at," she says. "They want to be able to ride their bikes in to town and be close to the vibrant things the city has to offer."

That meant facilities for cyclists, but also offering a shuttle to and from Union Station during rush hour for the 100 or so employees who take the GO train in to work.

Keeping talent

While the environment is a key factor in some of the decision making, White says it's about keeping and retaining good talent.

"We really did look at trends and where things are going in terms of what the workplace of the future looks like and what the worker of future wants," she says. "We thought moving downtown was a great idea to accomplish those objectives."

It's those perks, and location, that will keep workers like Katz close to home, literally.

"I like to go home sometimes on lunch to walk my dog and if Google was far outside of the (downtown) core, I wouldn't be able to do it," she says.

Katz shifts uncomfortably in her seat as she considers the idea of taking a job outside downtown Toronto. 

"I think it would have to be a really, really good opportunity," she says.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steven D'Souza

Senior Reporter

Steven D'Souza is a Senior Reporter based in Toronto. Previously he was CBC's correspondent in New York covering two U.S. Presidential campaigns and travelling around the U.S. covering everything from protests to natural disasters to mass shootings. He won a Canadian Screen Award for coverage of the protests around the death of George Floyd. He's reported internationally from Rome, Israel and Brazil.

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