New data released by the Property Council of Australia has revealed CBD office workers have returned to their workplaces in strong numbers in 2021.
Despite outbreaks of COVID-19 in several cities over the Christmas period, the latest survey of CBD occupancy by the Property Council found nearly all capital city CBDs were busier at the end of January than they had been before Christmas.
Melbourne CBD experienced the biggest rebound, more than doubling its pre-Christmas occupancy rate of 13 per cent to a rate of 31 per cent by the week following Australia Day.
Despite the Northern Beaches lockdown, Sydney’s CBD occupancy rate in January matched pre-Christmas levels of about 45 per cent.
Brisbane workers continued to return to their offices in January, with the occupancy rate for the Queensland capital up two per cent to 63 per cent, which was only 24 per cent down on pre-COVID levels.
Property Council CEO Ken Morrison said the survey results were a positive sign for the nation’s economic recovery but acknowledged more progress was needed.
“As we start the New Year it is encouraging to see so many CBD workers coming back to their offices to enjoy the benefits of face-to-face connections and collaboration,” Mr Morrison said.
He said Australia’s CBDs supported millions of jobs and generated billions of dollars in economic activity every year.
“While we have a long way to go to get back to pre-COVID levels, increased CBD occupancy is a godsend for the thousands of businesses that rely on bustling city centres to survive.”
The only decline in occupancy was recorded in Perth, with the recent five-day snap lockdown resulting in a drop from 77 per cent to 66 cent in the final week of January.
Respondents attributed an easing of government public health restrictions and reduced safety concerns as key factors contributing towards increased occupancy, while worker preferences for greater flexibility were cited as the main reason preventing a return to pre-COVID levels of occupancy.
Office building owners and managers are increasingly expecting a material increase in occupancy levels to occur over the next two months.
Mr Morrison said that building owners and managers have been working tirelessly to ensure workplaces are COVID-safe to support tenant businesses and their employees in returning to full productivity.
“There’s now a growing impetus for people to come back to their workplaces as public health restrictions are scaled down,” Mr Morrison said.
He said governments, employers and the property industry would all need to work to maintain momentum to ensure CBDs returned to full activity as soon as possible.
“The mission for policymakers, employers, and the property industry over the coming months will be to maintain momentum and ensure our CBDs return to full activity as quickly as possible.”