Downtown Rochester will not return to its crowded pre-pandemic state soon, as Mayo Clinic said 1,500 employees will now work at home for the long term, and many more will alternate work at the office and at home in a hybrid model.

It has been obvious that Mayo Clinic, like almost every other business and organization, needed to rethink how its workforce is deployed in this new era. Thousands of workers have been working from home for months.

Mayo Clinic is now releasing details of the plans for its employees, particularly the ones who work downtown.

“To ensure the safety of patients and staff and an adequate supply of COVID-19 protective equipment, the vast majority of Mayo Clinic staff who are not required to be on Mayo’s campuses to support patient care, student services or research will work remotely well into 2021,” wrote Mayo spokeswoman Ginger Plumbo. “Longer-term, we expect the majority of non-clinical administrative staff will be part of a hybrid workforce model.”

Of Mayo Clinic’s 39,300 Rochester employees, Plumbo estimates that “more than 20,000 will continue to work downtown.” Approximately 1,500 employees who went to work downtown every day will now “work off campus as their primary work location.”

Newsletter signup for email alerts

For comparison, Mayo Clinic reported having 18,440 employees working downtown in 2016, up from 16,418 in 2011, according to its 2016 Five Year Report.

While not unexpected, downtown workforce reductions are not good news for Steve Williams, of the Eagle Store. He and his brothers run the iconic “mom and pop” shop on the corner of Second Street and First Avenue Southwest.

“We need to have them back,” Williams said. “We depend on who is working in the downtown area, on people going to the clinic and people at conventions, but we really need people working in the downtown area.”

He said downtown is a very different place this year, with quiet sidewalks in the afternoons, even on nice days. Without that steady stream of regulars taking a break or leaving work, it’s hard for Williams and his brothers to know what to stock on the shelves. How many people will buy Mother’s Day or "Get well" cards compared to just a year ago?

Downtown businesses also faced the challenge of multiple construction projects, many part of the Destination Medical Center vision, making it difficult for the people who were on the sidewalks to reach the shops and restaurants.

However, Williams said, the store has survived many times of massive construction in its 33 years on the corner, but it was the downtown workers who carried them through.

Mayo Clinic employees take a break from work outside in the Annenberg Plaza downtown Rochester, October 8, 2020. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
Mayo Clinic employees take a break from work outside in the Annenberg Plaza downtown Rochester, October 8, 2020. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

“When the buildings around you have almost nobody in them, it hurts all of us … They (Mayo Clinic employees) are not shopping downtown. They are not eating downtown. It’s troublesome,” he said. “We need people back working in downtown.”

Mayo Clinic is aware of the impact that the changes in its workforce are having.

“Mayo Clinic remains strongly committed to the Destination Medical Center long-term vision and to creating a downtown area that is a place of choice to live, work and play. A vibrant downtown is important for our staff, visitors, patients, and the community,” Plumbo wrote. “We will continue to partner short- and long-term to support our local businesses.”

Mayo Clinic employees take a break from work outside in the Annenberg Plaza downtown Rochester, October 8, 2020. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
Mayo Clinic employees take a break from work outside in the Annenberg Plaza downtown Rochester, October 8, 2020. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)