The return to workers in CBD offices slows

Survey respondents identified worker preferences for greater flexibility as the main barrier to achieving full occupancy.

The return to workers in CBD offices slows
The return to workers in CBD offices slows

Australian CBDs are still reeling from the impact of COVID-19, with new data revealing a deceleration in the rate of workers returning to their offices.

The Property Council of Australia’s latest office occupancy survey has found little growth in the number of workers returning to offices in February across most Australian CBDs.

Especially following recent snap lockdowns, Melbourne and Perth CBDs both had less workers at the end of February than they had at the end of January. Melbourne’s CBD recorded only 24% occupancy in the final week of February.

Sydney’s CBD experienced the strongest growth last month with 48% occupancy recorded - up from 45% in the final week of January.

The return to workers in CBD offices slows

Survey respondents identified worker preferences for greater flexibility as the main barrier to achieving full occupancy despite office building owners and managers working to ensure workplaces are COVID-safe.

“As Australia’s public health response reaches a new phase and the vaccination program rolls out, we’re looking forward to more CBD workers coming back to their offices to enjoy the benefits of face-to-face connections and collaboration,” said Property Council chief Ken Morrison.

“Lively city centres are not only important for the thousands of businesses who rely on foot traffic, but also for millions of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars in broader economic activity generated in our CBDs,” he noted.

But boosting office occupancy levels remains a big challenge, especially in the secondary office space which is at risk of lower occupier demand and high vacancy, and likely in need of being retrofitted or repurposed. A recent PWC report advised around 12% of Australia’s economic activity during the 2019 financial year can be attributed to four of the country’s largest CBDs, but were likelier than the wider community to work from home.

"We believe that this so-called ‘death of the CBD’ has been exaggerate," PWC advised. "As the risks of COVID-19 recede, we can expect people to return to work in Australian CBDs." RMIT planning Professor Michael Buxton believes the emptying out of commercial buildings will be temporary, telling The Age the greater threat to the CBD was the loss of international students and short-term renters in high-rise apartments.

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of our authors. Jonathan has been writing about property since the early 1980s and is editor-at-large of Property Observer.

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