Sydney, Melbourne CBDs suffer as workers resist return to office

Sydney and Melbourne may be cursed to forever remain a shadow of their former selves because of the stubborn mindset of its working population.

Sydney and Melbourne may be cursed to forever remain a shadow of their former selves as workers refuse to return to the office.

The latest Google mobility data released over the weekend found that the work from home trend is here to stay.

Even though it’s been more than half a year since extended lockdowns in both capitals ended, the appeal of a home office has prompted many Australians to travel to work less or not at all.

It’s turning city centres into ghost towns while residential areas are flourishing.

Nationally, movement at workplaces is down only 8 per cent compared to pre-Covid times.

However, Sydney and Melbourne were the worst culprits, dragging the average down considerably, with foot traffic at their CBD workplaces reduced by 33 and 20 per cent respectively.

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Google broke up its data into six sections – retail/recreation, supermarket/pharmacy, parks, public transport, workplaces and residential.

All sections except ‘residential’ suffered in the City of Sydney and City of Melbourne jurisdictions.

That means significantly less people are eating, drinking, shopping, buying their groceries, attending entertainment venues or even walking around the park in the hearts of these cities.

Melbourne’s public transport in the system in the central business district has been used 51 per cent less than in February 2020, while the need for it in Sydney is reduced by 38 per cent.

Parks were visited 50 per cent less in Melbourne but only 13 per cent less in Sydney.

Retail, entertainment and hospitality businesses have suffered massively as a result of the rising popularity in working from home, with activity down by 39 and 37 per cent.

Even Brisbane, which didn’t experience a lockdown for a significant length of time in 2021, was experiencing decreased movement in its CBD.

Senior ANZ economist Adelaide Timbrell said of the trend: “Between the 2020 wave of Covid and the Delta outbreak in the second half of 2021 Sydney and Melbourne cafe transactions didn’t get up anywhere near where they were in 2019 … even when there really wasn’t much of Covid within those cities.”

In January, news.com.au reported how the Omicron variant was “worse than lockdown” for many hospitality businesses as it scared customers away, particularly in the CBD.

A number of Australian and international companies have raised eyebrows over their working from home policies.

In April last year, Australian tech company Atlassian announced that it only required staff to come into their nearest office four times a year.

Aussie graphic design company Canva only requires staff to show up to the office eight times a year, they revealed in September 2021.

Australia-based staff at major accounting firms Deloitte and KMPG have also been promised that they will be able be able to spend weeks overseas while still working remotely for the companies.

Tech giant Google said last year that staff could move away and work from home forever – but it would lead to a pay cut.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have all warned employees who plan to leave expensive cities like New York and San Francisco that their pay will be slashed – while smaller tech companies like Reddit and Zillow say they’ll pay the same regardless of where employees live.

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