Montreal’s increasingly deserted office towers

Downtown Montreal has been on “hiatus” for almost a year now and as time goes on, the telecommuting craze is fading – although the trend is here to stay. The vacancy rate in downtown office towers, meanwhile, is increasing. In their second downtown condition report, the Urban Development Institute of Quebec (IDU) and downtown Montreal draw up a few observations.

The crisis is hitting downtown office towers hard, pushing the general vacancy rate to 12.4% in the fourth quarter of 2020, up 2.6 percentage points from the second quarter of 2020. 'year.

© Jacques Nadeau Le Devoir
The crisis is hitting downtown office towers hard, pushing the general vacancy rate to 12.4% in the fourth quarter of 2020, up 2.6 percentage points from the second quarter of 2020. ‘year.

Teleworking is losing its charm

Even today, the majority of downtown workers continue their professional activities at home more than three days a week. They were around 70% in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to the report released Thursday.

However, if a vast majority of them want to continue working remotely, the craze for teleworking seems to have lost its appeal since the start of the pandemic. Is this the sign of a certain weariness?

According to a poll published in the report, two-thirds of respondents (67%) want to continue teleworking the majority of the time after the pandemic compared to 76% in the second quarter of 2020, a drop of nine percentage points.

“Teleworking is neither a panacea, nor a temporary one”, summarizes Jean-Marc Fournier, CEO of the IDU. We will therefore have to put up with it.

What return to the office?

Once the page on the pandemic is turned, it is very likely that some health concerns will persist. It will probably be necessary to make adjustments in the workplaces, believes Mr. Fournier.

Video: Isolation at the travelers’ hotel will become mandatory from February 22 (Le Devoir)

Isolation at the travelers’ hotel will become mandatory from February 22

  • Industry before the protection of the territory?Industry before the protection of the territory?
    Pressed to achieve the objectives of protecting the territory of Quebec, the Legault government chose to target mainly the northern regions. At the same time, he abandoned 83 protected area projects located further south and totaling nearly 20,000 km2, Le Devoir has learned. These territories were supposed to make it possible to preserve important ecosystems, rivers and endangered species, but many have been set aside to protect economic interests, deplore stakeholders well aware of the issue. By announcing last December that it had achieved its objective of protecting 17% of natural terrestrial environments in Quebec before the end of 2020, the Legault government especially unveiled the addition of preserved areas in northern territory, namely in Nunavik and in the Eeyou Istchee Baie-James region. All these projects were the subject of consultations with regional authorities and First Nations. According to government data obtained by Le Devoir, 83 other protected area projects which were also “resulting from regional and indigenous consultation work” by the Ministry of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change (MELCC) were nevertheless put aside. These projects, some of which had been ready for nearly a decade, total 19,882 km2. The addition of these protected areas would have made it possible to double the surface area of ​​protected areas in southern Quebec.

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  • Calls to reopen swimming pools in “bubbles” or solo
    Doctors are worried about the effect of confinement on the physical health of the population. Many Quebecers move less since the closure of indoor sports facilities such as gyms. Voices are being raised to ask the Legault government to authorize free swimming alone or in a “family bubble”, even in the red zone. Dr. François Simard, cardiologist at the Montreal Heart Institute, fears that the decrease in physical activity in the population will lead to an increase in cholesterol problems, high blood pressure and diabetes in the “medium term”. “At the Epic center [centre de prévention cardiovasculaire], in the emergency room and in the hospital, we see a clear trend of people who have stopped doing certain activities for various reasons, ”says Dr. François Simard. Among the reasons cited, the closing of gyms, the fear of falling outside in winter or a preference for walking inside a shopping center rather than outside in the cold. It is difficult for the moment to measure the real impact of confinement on the physical health of the population. Some European studies, carried out with small groups of professional athletes, have shown that their aerobic capacity has dropped as a result of the spring containment, says Dr. François Simard. “These are very preliminary data,” he explains. But it is a signal that confirms what we already know, namely that there are impacts on the physical condition of athletes two to four weeks after stopping training. The population in general will not escape this phenomenon, according to him.

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  • Towards a return of roadblocks in Quebec?Towards a return of roadblocks in Quebec?
    The Legault government plans to erect new roadblocks to limit travel during the spring break and, by extension, the spread of COVID-19. “The control of comings and goings between the provinces and within the province is part of our discussions and our ongoing concerns,” confirmed the Minister of Public Security, Geneviève Guilbault, Wednesday. Prime Minister François Legault had indicated the day before that the government “does not exclude” from imposing more measures during the first week of March. “We have a concern with the spring break, he admitted. Usually, there is a kind of big soup, a big mixing of people during the spring break even if people stay in Quebec. “

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In fact, according to the same report, only 25% of respondents would like to work in an open space without partitions or cubicles. The rest of the respondents (75%) prefer a return to the office in closed rooms or in open spaces, but with partitions or cubicles (see graph).

“Not only will it be necessary to set up incentives intra-walls, like the assurance of health protection, but the incentives extra-walls will also be important ”, underlines Mr. Fournier, in reference to the atmosphere of the city center and what it has to offer, such as proximity to shops or restaurants.

According to the survey, 51% of respondents say that the atmosphere that reigns downtown in normal times motivates them to return to the office.

More offices to let

By then, however, the crisis is hitting downtown office towers hard, pushing the general vacancy rate to 12.4% in the fourth quarter of 2020, up 2.6 percentage points. compared to the second quarter of the year. “It is worrying that the rate is increasing so much in such a short time,” recognizes Mr. Fournier.

“But the situation is contrasted according to the types of buildings. For example, the situation has changed relatively little for high-rise buildings in the central business district, but the deterioration has been significant in buildings that are a little more dilapidated, ”he notes.


The Web survey, for the second “The State of the City Center” report, was conducted between January 6 and 14 among 1,000 residents of the greater Montreal area. The questions focused on the situation before December 24, 2020, and therefore before the imposition of the closure of non-essential businesses (December 25, 2020) and the curfew (January 9, 2021).

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