Workers throughout Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra are returning to the office, the latest data suggests.

But occupancy remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

Releasing the latest edition of its Office Occupancy survey, the Property Council of Australia says that occupancy rates across Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra rose from 15 percent, 18 percent and 21 percent of pre-COVID levels in February to reach 32 percent, 41 percent and 45 percent of pre-COVID levels In March.

At this level, occupancy in all three cities was at its highest since the Delta outbreak in the middle of last year (see chart).

Occupancy also rose in Brisbane and Adelaide but dropped in Perth as that city entered the Omicron infection period.

The survey also found that:

  • Across major capitals, occupancy levels fluctuate from between 17 percent (in Melbourne) and 49 percent (in Adelaide) on low days to between 38 percent (in Melbourne) and 72 percent (in Adelaide) on high days.
  • As restrictions have eased, a preference for greater flexibility including working from home has emerged as the most significant driver of occupancy levels (see chart). This has replaced government public health restrictions which was the primary factor during the Delta and Omnicom wave.
  • Despite current momentum,  more than half of all survey participants believe that major recovery in occupancy levels is at least three months or more away.

Property Council of Australia Chief Executive Officer Ken Morrison welcomed the result.

He said the importance of in-person contact should not be underestimated.

“It’s heartening that people are returning to the office in such numbers, particularly given considerable weather events on the east coast and the continuing isolation impacts of the pandemic,” Mr Morrison said.

“To see office occupancy rates double in some of our major CBDs is especially pleasing and bodes well for further recovery in the months ahead.

“While most businesses are encouraging some flexible working arrangements with their staff, there are huge benefits in personal connection and it’s good to see these being embraced once again.”