Survey reveals few CBD businesses pushing strong return to work

Survey reveals few CBD businesses pushing strong return to work
David Schout

Less than one in five CBD businesses were asking employees to travel into the office for four or five days a week, in further proof the city’s rhythm had shifted strongly as a result of COVID-19.

Seven in 10 business owners also expected workers would not return to the office full-time in the “post-pandemic future”, according to a survey conducted by the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The canvassing of 88 small, medium and large office-based businesses was, according to the Chamber, the first detailed survey of CBD-based offices on the return to the workplace since restrictions were lifted. It found that for the most part, businesses had not implemented a strict return-to-work policy, reflecting the wider shift to flexible working arrangements.

Just 16 per cent of businesses surveyed had introduced a policy that employees must be present in the office for a minimum of four or five days per week.

Most businesses (41 per cent) had introduced a “no minimum days” policy.

A total of 20 per cent had asked workers to travel into the office at least three days per week, while 19 per cent had requested just two days in-person.

“The results show the return to office has been a gradual process and a large percentage of businesses have adopted hybrid working arrangements,” Victorian Chamber Chief Executive Paul Guerra said.

However, in good signs for CBD businesses that rely heavily on the presence of Monday-to-Friday workers, there had been a willingness from some workers to go above and beyond their employer’s requirements.

Almost half (47 per cent) were commuting into the Hoddle Grid between three to five days per week.

“What’s encouraging is that people are coming back to the office and embracing the social connection and enhanced collaboration and learning that in-person working offers. It’s also good for our CBD businesses that benefit from greater trade,” Mr Guerra said.

Notably, less than half of surveyed businesses (47 per cent) said they had seen an increase in productivity when employees worked from the office.

Mr Guerra said the permanency of remote working was still being figured out by both employers and employees.

“The survey tells us that people want flexibility and that’s what a lot of businesses are offering. We believe it’s up to individual businesses to determine their working arrangements and this is clearly what they are doing.”

The City of Melbourne has reported that CBD visitor numbers both on weekends and weekday evenings had bounced back strongly in recent months.

Foot traffic numbers from 9am to 5pm during the week were recovering at a far slower rate, in particular on Mondays and Fridays as workers show a preference to bookend their working week at home.

In March, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he believed changes to working arrangements within the CBD were “permanent”.

“I don’t think we’re going to go back to the way it was,” he said regarding city workers. “I think some people, for some time each week, are going to spend that time working at home.”

In the same speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, Mr Andrews said the future vibrancy of the CBD could depend on increased resident numbers.

“I would welcome a discussion about commercial real estate in the city, and about the fact that’s going to change.”

“Some businesses are not going to need the floor space that they used to need. If you want to keep the CBD vibrant, then maybe we need to have more people living in the CBD.” •

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