Workers return to the Sydney CBD as the ‘new normal’ takes shape

Office occupancy rates are improving in Sydney, according to the Property Council.

The announcement:

NSW Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia Jane Fitzgerald said that the Sydney CBD was starting to get its mojo back with a surge in occupancy of the city’s offices according to survey data released today.

“The ‘new normal’ is emerging as we approach 12 months since Sydney came out of lockdown. Workers are re-embracing face-to-face engagement with their colleagues and clients and valuing human connection and interaction that just can’t be replicated through online meetings,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

Property Council data for Sydney shows a nine-point increase over the past month, rising from 50 in March to 59 percent in April. Sydney is closing the gap on other states such as Brisbane and Canberra, who each have 63 percent of their workforce back in city offices.

“Treasurer Dominic Perrottet has been proactively working to encourage people back into the city, including holding an Ideas Summit last month and there is no doubt that the State Government, and the City of Sydney, are stepping up to the plate to ensure the engine room of the State’s economy fires up again,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“Simply put, it is critical that we continue to prioritise re-enlivening the Sydney CBD to drive the State’s economic rebuild following the pandemic.

“City vibrancy relies on workers being able to return to their offices and re-engage with their peers, frequent retail and hospitality venues in the CBD and attend networking events. Attendees at our recent events have never been more eager to enjoy networking with their industry colleagues and build relationships that will take our great State forward. 

“We look forward to the outcome from the Treasurer’s summit which should include a strong emphasis on the public service leading the way.”

Ms Fitzgerald said that at the Treasurer’s summit there was much discussion about the 1.5m distancing guidelines and the impact they have on offices (including lifts) and the one person per 2sqm rule around business events. 

“As soon as the health advice allows, these should be reconsidered”, Ms Fitzgerald said.

Recently the Property Council proposed a six-point plan CBD activation plan including:

  1. Global-focused media pitch through imagery for business, tourism and capital attraction showcasing the cities offerings and gatherings, demonstrating that Sydney is open for business.
  2. Social and business lunch culture being promoted, setting the scene for the extended campaign and supporting local restaurants and cafes to promote their wares, with attendees able to leverage their ‘Dine and Discover’ vouchers, and the expansion of the vouchers to focus on Friday spending in the Sydney CBD.
  3. Providing an enticing event that encourages workers to commute to the city on a Friday through providing a sought after and exciting opportunity.
  4. Leading by example by enticing the public sector workforce back with a commitment to at least three days in the office, prioritising Fridays and Mondays.
  5. Forming a CBD activation taskforce consisting of key industry bodies to work together to mobilise business within the CBD to work on a collaborative campaign and invest in CBD activation and workers experience, attracting workers back to the CBD.

Office Occupancy by CBD

CBDJan 2021Feb 2021Mar 2021April 2021

Figures are based on responses from Property Council members who own or manage CBD office buildings and cover occupancy for the period from 26 to 30 April 2021.

In addition to the survey data, according to local advice and information gathered:

· Parramatta: Parramatta is experiencing a “bottom-up return” to commercial offices with small and medium enterprises leading the charge. The areas of traditionally high pedestrian levels are the busiest they have been since March 2020. The public service and a number of large corporates have had a sluggish return to their offices.

· Wollongong: Government tenants in Wollongong are back to work in office spaces close to 100 percent, with staff opting for flexible arrangements of one day per week from home. Other businesses in the region are largely all back in the office, except for some call centres.

· Newcastle: Private industry has shown a strong return to office trend in 2021, with most businesses operating on an office-first principle, with flexibility negotiated rather than a default standard. For government tenants the picture is mixed with a slower return to office for white collar workers.

Source: Property Council of Australia

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