Office workers to be brought back to Melbourne CBD
But assuming Dan follows Dom’s lead, will office workers return?
Everyone knows someone who says they won’t go back to CBD because COVID has shown they can do their job from home. But if we let the habits of the past two years become permanent, Victoria will be a very different place.
Before COVID, the city of Melbourne was the booming engine room of the state’s economy, producing a record gross local product of $104 billion and home to nearly 500,000 jobs.
Pandemic-related restrictions prompted rapid decentralization. If this continues and the CBD economy becomes permanently smaller, it’s unclear how Victoria will replace it.
To put it bluntly, the economic trajectory of our state in the absence of a thriving center is uncertain.
A report released by the Melbourne committee this week looked at Melbourne’s performance against its global counterparts. He revealed that we are still heavily dependent on our ‘world class’ city centre, with Greater Melbourne lagging behind.
If we allow this center to wither, we endanger the economic future of our state.
If working from home becomes a widespread and permanent habit, it will also harm us on an individual level.
Sure, some city workers may be content to type away from their home office, but that would leave behind a generation of young professionals. Many employers have found that junior staff are the most eager to come back, which is no surprise if your home office is also your roommate.
Even more so if you’re trying to master a new profession through Zoom.
We recognize that two years of remote learning has created challenges for students in schools and universities. We must also recognize that it is unfair to expect young people starting their careers to learn through a screen.
As Virginia Briggs – the head of Australia’s largest law firm, MinterEllison – recently said: “People have done a wonderful job remotely during COVID, but there’s no substitute for that face-to-face learning, this accidental learning from overheard conversations, being caught in a meeting with a client, so you can see how more experienced practitioners operate.
The good news is that there is reason to believe workers will return when restrictions ease. A PwC study published late last year found that a clear majority of 2,000 respondents wanted to return to the office.
But bringing our city back to life will take leadership.
And the need is urgent. A City of Melbourne survey of businesses last month found almost three-quarters were in ‘severe distress’ or ‘just surviving’. More than half did not feel confident they could stay open for more than three months.
The council has sought to fire its own staff, hundreds of whom attended public all-staff meetings in person last week.
But Victoria needs leadership from the city’s largest employer.
The Victorian government employed around 13% of the city’s pre-pandemic workforce. Last March, he said officials would be encouraged, but not required, to report to their offices three days a week.
No public performance level data has been released. But data captured by the City of Melbourne’s pedestrian sensors near public sector workplaces consistently recorded lower activity than the rest of the city after and between lockdowns, suggesting fewer public servants were frequenting the office compared to other employees in the city.
The New South Wales government has held three summits to address the pressing issue of CBD recovery. The Victorian government held none.
At the third summit held last week, Prime Minister Perrottet said “everything is on the table”, including discounted public transport for people returning to the CBD. He said it was his government’s “civic duty” to bring workers back to the city and “to support businesses, support people and bring our roaring city back to life”.
As for the return of officials, it was clear.
“My view is that I have to lead by example and bring the public service back,” he said.
Will our prime minister intervene?
Roshena Campbell is a Melbourne councilor and lawyer. She is a member of the Liberal Party. The views expressed are his own and not those of Melbourne City Council.