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There is a lot of uncertainty around the post-pandemic future of office spaces. As COVID-19 restrictions start to ease around Australia, more and more workers will be returning to the office. However, it’s unclear to what extent they are willing to return.

Late last year the Property Council of Australia’s statistics indicated that occupancy in Sydney’s central business district offices was at 4 per cent, Melbourne was at 6 per cent and Canberra was at 8 per cent. As expectations shift and more employers expect employees to return to the office, it will be interesting to see how dramatically the occupancy percentage changes over the next few months.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has psychologically impacted us. We are having discussions all the time with candidates who now feel very concerned and uncertain about returning to the office. Two of the major reasons are:

1. Public transport and commute times

Many people are now feeling more anxious about public transport. There was always a risk of catching transmissible diseases like the flu but we’re now hyper aware of the risks of catching COVID-19 while travelling to work.

There is also the issue of long commute times. There were many people that previously tolerated long daily commutes because they accepted that they were required in the office. Now, many workers have seen that much (if not all) of their work can be done remotely and they’re not as willing to submit to long hours on public transport.

2. Working from home flexibility

Have you sat in bed while on a zoom call? Stayed in your pjs while working? Or had a swim on your lunch break? There are a multitude of cosy and convenient ‘home comforts’ that many of us have enjoyed. The flexibility and increased autonomy we have experienced as a result of working from home is not something many people want to give up.

What are the benefits of returning to the office?

A recent opinion piece in The Australian Financial Review titled ‘Wondering why you should bother with an office return? Read this’ cited some interesting research that points to the benefits of workplace friendships and colleagues. It says the following; “Global analytics firm Gallup has found women with a close colleague are more than twice as likely to be engaged (63 per cent) than those who don’t (29 per cent). These strong ties make us less likely to look for a new job, and more likely to turn one down when it falls unexpectedly in our lap.”

Behaviour economists have also researched the importance of weak ties with research indicating “a massive 84 per cent of people land their job through a casual contact.”

Tips for workplaces wanting to entice workers back to the office

  • Be understanding and listen to employee concerns
  • Allow for some degree of flexible work arrangements
  • Implement safety initiatives to help alleviate any COVID-19 anxiety workers may be experiencing, such as improved air filtration
  • Create positive experiences for people returning to the office, such as cake celebrations for birthdays and/or Friday arvo drinks
  • Emphasise the social benefits of working in an office, such as the increased opportunity to build camaraderie and develop careers