The latest draw of workers into offices is heartening downtown St. Paul and east metro boosters, who say tenant and foot traffic should be much brisker by summer.
"Downtown and skyways are starting to have a noticeable pulse again," said Patrick Skinner, general manager of Wells Fargo Place, the tallest office building in St. Paul's downtown.
The 37-story tower is 90% leased, and Skinner now expects building usage to be 60 to 65% of pre-pandemic levels by the summer, up from 30 to 35% now.
"Within the last couple of weeks we have learned that all of our tenants, save for a couple smaller tenants, are planning a return-to work-strategy for the near future," Skinner said.
Before most office employees started working from home in March 2020, about 1,500 workers from Wells Fargo, the Internal Revenue Service, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and other tenants were in the building daily.
"We are also seeing very encouraging improvement in activity and sales numbers for our restaurant tenants," Skinner said.
Downtown Minneapolis and the areas around big corporate campuses such as 3M and Best Buy also will get a boost as more companies set plans for a hybrid schedule for workers.
In downtown St. Paul, Wells Fargo workers started coming back last week, as did the Travelers Companies' 2,100 insurance workers in St. Paul. Securian Financial has set Tuesday for the start of its phased return, while Ecolab corporate employees will return April 4.
Already, the moves are leading to increasing activity on the streets, said Joe Spencer, president of St. Paul Downtown Alliance.
"Walking around downtown these days, you can feel an anticipation and excitement brewing just under the surface," Spencer wrote in an e-mail. He also pointed to recently opened bars and restaurants like Momento, Lost Fox, MetroNome Brewery and Hepcat Coffee.
Sunny skies, plus the return-to-work announcements, renewed St. Patrick's Day events, the Minnesota boys high school hockey tournament — all are "adding up to a feeling that's been missing for most of the last two years," Spencer said.
The plummeting COVID-19 infection rates in recent weeks have led many Twin Cities employers to set in motion plans to add office days back into the mix.
Travelers is taking a "flexible approach to work arrangements," a spokeswoman said. "This means that some employees have chosen to, or have roles that require them to, work from the office full time. While others have fully remote positions and some have chosen a hybrid arrangement."
That's the approach most companies are taking, although the details of hybrid plans differ.
3M reopened its headquarters campus in Maplewood last week and announced its "Work Your Way" model that lets most workers choose options.
While most lab and manufacturing employees have to work on-site, 3M's U.S. office employees, including the nearly 10,000 in Minnesota, were given a choice to return to the office, said 3M spokesman Tim Post during a phone interview.
"Working from a 3M office will be another option for 3M's nonproduction employees as they find a schedule that best works for them," Post said.
Best Buy's approach for most headquarters employees is more structured — three days in the office, two at home or another location of their choice, the company said. Some employees will be full time at the Richfield campus and other offices, some will be fully remote.
Best Buy's new hybrid structure goes into effect the week of April 18.
Deluxe Corp. employees at the company's new downtown Minneapolis headquarters officially started hybrid work last week, joining workers at employers such as the city of Minneapolis, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and Ameriprise Financial.
"We are definitely seeing an increase in workday activity, especially in the middle of the week, Tuesday through Thursday," said Steve Cramer, chief executive of Minneapolis Downtown Council.
Includes reporting by staff writer Nicole Norfleet.