Melbourne CBD office occupancy falters

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EVEN before the city’s most recent lockdown, Melbourne’s CBD reactivation is still significantly behind the rest of the country.

While over May Sydney’s CBD office occupancy mostly caught up to the other capitals, rising to 68% of pre-COVID levels, Melbourne’s sat at just 45%, according to the Property Council of Australia’s most recent survey.

“Once the current lockdown has concluded, there will need to be a redoubling of efforts to return the Melbourne CBD into the vibrant city centre that it was prior to the pandemic,” said Ken Morrison, chief executive of the Property Council.

Sydney has been experiencing consistent growth in reactivation since the setback of its January lockdown following an outbreak in the Northern Beaches.

Perth was the only capital to record a fall in occupancy, however minor, falling from 78% in April to 77% in May.

While Adelaide and Darwin remained stable, recording a consecutive month of 78% and 93% occupancy respectively.

Brisbane and Canberra both rose from 70% in April to 71% in May, while Hobart climbed 2% from 91% to 93%.

“Governments have a key leadership role to play by ensuring that their own workforces are turning up to the office, getting the full benefits of in-person collaboration, and contributing to the city economy,” said Morrison, referring to the National Cabinet’s recommendation for review of office distancing guidance by the Australian Health Protection Committee.

NAB’s recent Health Wellbeing Insight Report on working from home, found that even with worries about loneliness, loss of social interactions and the risk of losing a work-life balance, many workers still found working from home benefits outweighed the risks.

Responses before Melbourne’s fourth lockdown showed nearly 50% of those surveyed felt worker preferences for greater flexibility was one of the major hurdles to achieving full occupancy.

“Flexibility will continue to be a strong feature of working in the post-pandemic world, but the current levels of occupancy are not sufficient to support Australia’s broader economic recovery,” added Morrison.

Despite initiatives to draw CBD workers back to their offices, such as Melbourne’s FOMO Fridays of Brisbane’s Fridays in the City, the latest survey found that 81% of office building owners and managers still do not expect to see any material rise in occupancy levels over the coming three months.