Positive signs in return to office

In Australia’s cities hardest hit by COVID, the number of people working in the office tripled last month, according to a new survey by the Property Council of Australia.

The Property Council of Australia’s latest Office Occupancy survey found over November Melbourne’s office occupancy jumped from 4 per cent to 12 per cent, while in Sydney, office occupancy hit double digits at 23 per cent, compared to 8 per cent the month earlier.

Property Council of Australia CEO Ken Morrison said while the increases were coming off lock-down lows, the figures were heartening.

“We know COVID-19 and successive lockdowns left our major CBDs deserted, so it’s good news, even at this traditionally slower time of year, that people are heading back to their places of work,” Mr Morrison said.

“What’s particularly pleasing about this survey is that people’s concerns around workplace safety and public transport have eased off, and so too have government restrictions, and instead it’s increasingly the personal choice for flexible working that’s driving people’s decisions,” he added.

The November survey of office owners also found more modest increases in the ACT and Brisbane, where occupancy lifted from 7 to 17 per cent, and 57 to 63 per cent respectively.

“Given the ACT’s high vaccination rates, Canberra is poised to rebound, and with greater government support for the public service returning to the office, we hope the CBD and its businesses that are crying out for customers, can be revived,” Mr Morrison said.

“In Brisbane, largely spared from the extended lockdowns of other states, occupancy has grown but we still need more momentum to bring more life to the city,” he said.

The Property Council of Australia survey also asked respondents when they expected to see a material increase in occupancy levels, and while 31 per cent said it would take 1-2 months, more than half (62 per cent) of respondents suggested major improvements wouldn’t be seen for 3 months or more.

“We’ve seen good positive momentum over November but the timing of the Christmas break will put a pause on this as workers take a decent break to recharge after a challenging two years, before returning to work and their offices, after summer,” Mr Morrison said.

“Across the country The Property Council has been working closely with political and business leaders to re-start the hearts of our CBDs, and we look forward to continuing those efforts in the New Year,” he said.

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