Lockdowns slow progress towards CBD reactivation

Australian CBDs are feeling the impact of recent COVID-19 lockdowns, with new data revealing a deceleration in the rate of workers returning to their offices. 

The Property Council of Australia’s latest office occupancy survey has found little growth in the number of workers returning to offices in February across most Australian CBDs. 

Following recent snap lockdowns, Melbourne and Perth CBDs both had less workers at the end of February than they had at the end of January. Melbourne’s CBD recorded only 24% occupancy in the final week of February. 

Sydney’s CBD experienced the strongest growth last month with 48% occupancy recorded - up from 45% in the final week of January. 

Property Council Chief Executive Ken Morrison said the survey results demonstrated that there is a long way to go to fully reactivate Australia’s commercial centres. 

It is clear that snap lockdowns have had an impact on CBD workers’ ability return to their offices and their confidence to do so,” Mr Morrison said. 

While we’re all expecting to see more people working from home as part of the new post-COVID normal, thriving CBDs will be critical to  Australia’s economic recovery. 

Lively city centres are not only important for the thousands of businesses who rely on foot trafficbut also for millions of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars in broader economic activity generated in our CBDs.” 

Mr Morrison said it was imperative that policymakers, employers, and the property industry work together over the coming months to boost office occupancy levels. 

There is an economic imperative for all stakeholders to instigate policies and initiatives that will ensure our CBDs return to full activity as quickly as possible, Mr Morrison said. 

Survey respondents identified worker preferences for greater flexibility as the main barrier to achieving full occupancy. Government lockdowns and public health restrictions were also noted as a major factor. 

A growing number of office building owners and managers are expecting to see a material increase in occupancy levels within the next one or two months. 

Mr Morrison said that building owners and managers have been working tirelessly to ensure workplaces are COVID-safe to support tenant businesses and their employees in returning to full productivity. 

“Every part of the journey through an office building including foyers, lifts, end of trip facilities, common areas and shared spaces has been reviewed with new practices and protocols put in place to promote health and safety,” 

“As Australia’s public health response reaches a new phase and the vaccination program rolls out, we’re looking forward to more CBD workers coming back to their offices to enjoy the benefits of face-to-face connections and collaboration.” 

Office occupancy by CBD 

CBD

Dec 2020

Jan 2021

Feb 2021

Melbourne

13%

31%

24%

Sydney

45%

45%

48%

Brisbane

61%

63%

64%

Canberra

65%

68%

65%

Adelaide

68%

69%

69%

Hobart

76%

80%

76%

Perth

77%

66%

65%

Darwin

82%

80%

80%

 
Figures are based on responses from Property Council members who own or manage CBD office buildings and cover occupancy for the period from 22 to 28 February 2021. 

Media contact: Henry Pike | M 0408 406 637 | E  [email protected]