Melbourne's CBD offices are three-quarters empty and more than half of Sydney's workforce is still at home, a new report shows

  • Slightly less than half of Sydney’s offices were occupied in February, according to the Property Council of Australia.
  • The figure was more stark in Melbourne, which saw a snap five-day lockdown correlate with 24% office occupancy.
  • Increasingly, survey respondents said a preference for flexibility – not the risk of government intervention – was driving work-from-home arrangements.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Sydney’s CBD offices are not even half full and most of Melbourne’s white-collar workforce is still steering clear of the city, according to new analysis from the Property Council of Australia (PCA).

In its new office occupancy report, released Wednesday, the organisation said Sydney’s CBD occupancy sat at 48% in late February, up 3% from January.

Sydney’s gradual return to the office has been spurred by increasing confidence in the state government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, said PCA NSW executive director Jane Fitzgerald.

“The sturdy position of the NSW Premier to keep borders open and only lock down local areas with local outbreaks is laying the path for life in a COVID managed way,” Fitzgerald said.

The state’s initial vaccine rollout would have encouraged Sydney workers to hike back in to the office, Fitzgerald added.

But Sydney only counts the second-lowest office occupancy of any capital city.

Melbourne has the Harbour City beat for empty workplaces, with just 24% of CBD offices occupied – a dip of 7% from January levels.

The city’s tentative return to work was rumbled by the state’s snap five-day lockdown, which reintroduced stay-at-home restrictions and mandated office closures.

A 50% occupancy cap on offices lingered after lockdowns lifted on February 17, ensuring many workers stayed at home.

Victoria only reintroduced its 75% occupancy caps on Friday, February 26, two days before the PCA’s survey period came to an end.

Naturally, the state’s snap closure caused an uptick in survey respondents claiming government measures had influenced occupancy levels.

Yet that metric was outstripped by the number of CBD landlords who claimed workplace flexibility and a preference for working from home contributed to diminished office occupancy.

Nationwide, in-person attendance remained tepid. Darwin led on occupancy figures, with 80% of the city’s CBD offices packed out during the workday.

Next came Hobart, with 76%, followed by Adelaide on 69%. Perth and Canberra both reported their offices were 65% full, with Brisbane sitting on 64%.

Across the map, occupancy levels still sit far below pre-COVID levels.

After January’s figures, Danni Hunter, PCA Victorian executive director, said CBD workspaces maintain “the benefits of collaboration, productivity and positive team culture” which WFH arrangements lack.

The latest stats suggest Sydneysiders are making a tentative return to that type of daily grind.
But as major businesses continue to offer workplace flexibility, it’s apparent the kitchen table will make do for many, for just a little while longer.

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