Office occupancy turns corner, public servants ease into routines

By Jackson Graham

March 8, 2022

melbourne flinders street station
Canberra and Melbourne workers went back to offices at rates not seen since the middle of 2021 last month. (Aleksandar Todorovic/Adobe)

Canberra and Melbourne workers went back to offices at rates not seen since the middle of 2021 last month but many desks stayed unoccupied as people eased into new routines. 

In the public service, many workers were given the first weeks of March to adjust to regular commutes to offices after the Omicron wave stalled plans for an earlier return in January. 

Workers and employers are also coming to agreements about opportunities for ongoing hybrid work, with agencies having different approaches. 

Lobby group the Property Council of Australia surveyed office occupancy rates in February, finding in Melbourne’s CBD workplaces were 15% full and workers in Canberra offices had reached 21%. 

While the rates are the highest since mid-2021, the council’s survey shows offices trailing behind the 26% occupancy rate in Melbourne and 72% occupancy rate in Canberra in June last year. 

Property Council chief executive Ken Morrison acknowledged there was still a long way to go, with local factors affecting each city. “But these figures are a strong start which we expect to accelerate in March, as more businesses reopen their offices,” Morrison said. 

He reiterated a call for governments, including councils, to “focus on bringing our CBDs back to life”. 

Not all leaders have responded fondly to the notion of public servants being present in offices to support city economies, with ACT chief minister Andrew Barr pushing back against government staff being used as “consumer fodder”. 

“That’s their private business what they do in terms of their consumption patterns,” Barr said.  

Barr has said the number of ACT office-based public servants is relatively small compared with other jurisdictions and the government is investing in ‘hubs’ for its public servants to work flexibly from across Canberra for up to two days a week. 

Brisbane and Adelaide saw the strongest rebounds in February, with office occupancy shifting from low double figures to more than 40% full. 

Sydney’s offices looked likely to return to being nearly quarter full, as they were in November, after reaching 18% in February. Offices in Perth’s CBD were 55% full in February, the lowest since the survey commenced in July 2020.


Gates open for public servants to return to offices

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