sydney waterfront
Sydney’s CBD saw office occupancies almost triple over the past month. Image – Canva.
  • Melbourne and Canberra recorded their highest office occupancy levels since June 2021
  • Perth recorded a 20%+ decline in its occuapncy rate
  • Otherwise, a good start to the year, says chief executive Ken Morrison

Australians working from the office has bounced back to levels not seen since the Omicron outbreak began, with Melbourne and Canberra recording their highest office occupancy levels since June last year, according to data from the Property Council of Australia (PCA).

Sydney also recorded sharp increases, with a turnaround from 7% occupancy in January to 18% last month. This is just shy of the 23% figure recorded in November

However, Perth – which is experiencing its first major community spread of the virus for the first time – recorded a sharp decline, with 55% occupancy, a decline of over 20%.

Good start to the year

Chief executive of the Property Council, Ken Morrison, said the results highlighted a good start to the year despite challenging circumstances over the past few months.

“Given occupancy really bottomed out in January because of the Omicron wave and holidays, it’s heartening to see such a significant turnaround just one month later,” Mr Morrison said.

“There is still a long way to go and there are 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

Melbourne’s CBD reached an occupancy rate of 15%, with 21% in Canberra. By contrast, during June 2021, both cities saw rates of 26% and 72% respectively.

Brisbane and Adelaide saw significant rebounds, with the Queensland capital jumping from 13% to 41% and Adelaide with 11% to 47% occupancy in February.

Encouraging for Sydney businesses

Luke Achterstraat
Luke Achterstraat. Image – LinkedIn

Luke Achterstraat, Property Council’s NSW executive director, said the almost tripling of office occupancy clearly indicates that Sydney is witnessing an upward trajectory in its recovery.

“Last year Sydney had a strong and quick recovery from the Delta lockdowns and these figures, while still showing much room for growth, indicate that Sydney’s recovery is even stronger again following Omicron,” he said.

Mr Achterstraat added it is important to harness momentum, including reminding those of the value proposition of working in the city.

“It’s important that governments, councils and business have a big focus on bringing our CBDs back to life.“

“Following on from the past two years, 2022 will be a crucial year to remind workers the importance of collaboration, networking and company culture.”

WA lags behind

sandra brewer
Sandra Brewer. Image – Property Council.

Perth, which is now recording over 2,000 new local covid cases per day, became the only state capital that recorded a decline in office workers working in the city. Occupancy levels are at 55% compared to levels seen before the pandemic began.

Sandra Brewer, Property Council WA executive director, said this was a major blow to the business community, who had been diligent with government directions.

“For two years, businesses across the state have managed staff shortages, supply constraints, a total pause on tourism, rolling restrictions, vaccination requirements and mask mandates, under an assurance that compliance would mean a quick transition to living with COVID-19,” Ms Brewer said.

“Instead of benefiting from learnings on the east, we are now experiencing a replication of the economic damage we sought to avoid.”

Ms Brewer added that while the state government has encouraged workers to continue working from the office, the occupancy figures show that people remained deterred by other policy restrictions.

A poll conducted by the industry body revealed that over 61% of those working from home because of the mask mandate. Only 18% said their employer instructed them to work from home, with 10% stating there primary reason was due to the fear of contracting Covid.

“To paraphrase Health Minister Amber Jade Sanderson, we have, in all but name, lockdowns in our CBD… it’s essentially lockdown by policy,” Ms Brewer concluded.

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