Workers are returning to Brisbane’s CBD, with office occupancy rates hitting 64 per cent of COVID-19 pre-pandemic levels — in one of the highest rates in the country, according to new data.
- Smaller companies will move in from the suburbs once older, cheaper buildings come available, the PCA says
- One of the biggest factors influencing the current level of occupancy is the preference for greater flexibility
- A hybrid of working from home and in the office is becoming preferred for many employees
Figures from the Property Council of Australia (PCA) show Brisbane is second behind only Adelaide in occupancy rates, jumping from just over 50 per cent in April to 64 per cent in May 2022.
Melbourne has recorded the lowest rate of the capital cities, with 48 per cent.
The data shows on peak days, Brisbane’s occupancy rate stands at 73 per cent and 43 per cent on a low day.
Property Council of Australia chief executive director Jen Williams said it was a “pleasing bounce back”.
“The beginning of the year was tricky with Omicron, followed by the floods, lots of public holidays, and the rain in the past few weeks as well,” Ms Williams said.
“We are seeing a change in the way people go about their day-to-day lives in terms of the office, so there is definitely a trend towards a hybrid way of working now.
She said some companies were moving from older buildings to quality buildings that were more sustainable and had good technology in place.
The PCA said smaller companies would move in from the suburbs once older, cheaper buildings became available, despite many floors remaining vacant.
Ms Williams said other cities were taking longer to bounce back because they had extended lockdowns due to COVID-19.
For Brisbane, Ms Williams said she believed there would be some natural growth in the lead-up to the Olympics and “we will see more white-collar workers move into the city”.
“We will see people coming and going from the city centre more often than we did in the past,” she said.
“I do not feel we will see people working 100 per cent at home like we did in the lockdowns.”
‘Energy on the ground’
One of the biggest factors influencing the current level of occupancy is the preference for greater flexibility.
Head of Leasing at CBRE Pacific, Mark Curtain, said he had noticed the mood had changed in the city.
“You can feel that energy on the ground in the city, with more people on the streets and in the food and beverage outlets,” Mr Curtain said.
But he said there was still more progress to be made.
“If we can get back to an 80 per cent occupancy rate of where we were pre-COVID, I think that’s a sustainable model for our cities,” he said.
“We need people in the city to sustain all the wonderful amenities that we all enjoy. We all do somewhat have a duty to continue to support the CBD.”
Mr Curtain said there was still plenty of empty office space, as the vacancy rate sits at 15.4 per cent across the Brisbane CBD.
He said there had been a push towards quality that would continue as more buildings came online, leaving older buildings to be repurposed.
He said landlords were looking at strategies to help get people into the office like wellness offerings, food and beverage amenities and technological experiences.
‘Hybrid’ of working from home and in office
But working from home remains the preference for many employees.
Alicia Kendall works as a financial director at a stockbroking firm in Brisbane’s CBD.
During the pandemic, Ms Kendall and her family moved from the inner-city suburb of Spring Hill to Bribie Island, north of Brisbane, which meant she now juggled working from home with childcare arrangements.
“Because of the pandemic, we’ve actually made some significant life choices, which will mean work from home will become more prominent with what we do,” Ms Kendall said.
She said she could not do her job entirely remotely and still went into the office several times a week.