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Return of the workers: Australian offices filling up again

By Kace O'Neill | |5 minute read
Return Of The Workers Australian Offices Filling Up Again

Aussie workers are returning to the office in ever-growing numbers, with cities like Perth and Adelaide leading the charge.

New data from CBRE has shown that Australian offices are filling up again. Excluding the usual quieter holiday months of December and January, the CDB office occupancy rate averaged 76 per cent of pre-COVID levels in Q1 2024, which is up from 70 per cent in Q4 2023.

CBRE’s Australian head of office research, Tom Broderick, said the improved trend was in stark contrast to the US, where office attendance had stabilised at about 50 per cent of pre-COVID levels.


“Australia’s capital cities have the benefit of better access to public transport, shorter commute times and lower inner-city crime rates,” Broderick said.

“CBRE Research expects occupancy levels in Australia will continue to rise over the remainder of 2024 and beyond, particularly on non-peak days. Businesses are continuing to incentivise workers to encourage this return-to-office theme and are also investing in higher-quality accommodation to earn the commute.”

The key here is to incentivise workers, as some organisational leaders have taken the mandate approach, much to the dismay of their workers. CBRE’s pacific head of investor leasing, Tim Courtnall, said enticing work environments were a key incentive, which was demonstrated through CBRE’s data.

“Just over two-thirds of the businesses that have moved premises in the past three years have upgraded to a better-quality office building. Feedback from some of these occupiers suggests a significant improvement in employees returning to the office following a move to new generation office stock,” Courtnall said.

“Some organisations are also starting to link pay and promotions to office attendance, linking this to enhanced corporate culture and the contributions this makes to the mentoring of younger employees.”

This approach is much more suitable as it avoids that ugly, contentious battle between employees and employers that can often arise when back-to-office mandates or more hostile measures are put in place.

Melbourne is another example of employees returning, as they showed huge improvement with their CBD occupancy rate, jumping from 57 per cent to 62 per cent over the quarter. However, the smaller cities of Perth and Adelaide are still the standouts, with occupancy rates at 93 per cent and 88 per cent, respectively.

“These markets have shorter commute times for employees, and working from home has been less structure in these cities. Peak days in Perth and Adelaide are almost back to pre-COVID-19 norms at 96 per cent and 94 per cent, respectively, and there is also less discrepancy between attendance on different days of the way compared to the larger cities of Sydney and Melbourne,” Broderick said.

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill is a Graduate Journalist for HR Leader. Kace studied Media Communications and Maori studies at the University of Otago, he has a passion for sports and storytelling.