Property Australia

New data backs PM’s call to return to the office


New Property Council data shows office building occupancy remains low, while Investa analysis reveals that office worker productivity declined by three per cent in the three months to June.


  Three key takeaways:

  • A Property Council survey of members who own or manage office buildings in CBD locations has found occupancy levels remain well below pre-COVID levels
  • Investa analysis of data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics finds office workforce productivity declined by 3% in the three months to June
  • Investa’s head of research, David Cannington, suggests the challenges of transitioning to home-based work combined with a lack of separation between home and work have resulted in office workers feeling they are more productive despite data revealing otherwise.


Melbourne’s occupancy rate of 10 per cent was the lowest in the country and reflected the impact of stringent Stage 4 restrictions.

Occupancy in the Sydney CBD was at 35 per cent, up from 30 per cent the previous month.

Canberra office occupancy was essentially unchanged at 46 per cent, while Brisbane increased from 45 per cent to 52 per cent, and Perth rose from 55 per cent to 63 per cent.

Adelaide’s occupancy rate increased to 67 per cent, up from 61 per cent. Darwin was steady at 70 per cent, while Hobart grew the most of all capital cities, up to 78 per cent compared to 60 per cent in the previous period.

According to Property Council chief executive Ken Morrison, the data reinforces the Prime Minister’s call for businesses to return to the office.

“Our CBDs are big drivers of productivity and economic activity. Their reactivation is absolutely essential to economic recovery, including supporting all of those businesses which depend on CBD office workers for their viability,” Morrison says.

“You can’t have economic recovery without thriving CBD economies. Building owners and managers have worked to ensure their office buildings are COVID-safe and ready for workers to return. It’s time to get Australia moving again.”

Meanwhile, Investa’s analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data reveals that office worker productivity has not improved since the global COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of Australians to work from home.

Australia’s office workforce productivity declined by three per cent in the three months to the end of June 2020.

“Clearly there are some benefits to home-based office work, but increased labour productivity isn’t one,” says David Cannington, Investa’s head of research.

Cannington and his team crunched the numbers, finding that the decline in white collar output (-5.6% quarter on quarter) has been sharper than the fall in employment (-2.6%), representing a decline in white collar, or office workforce, productivity.

“Taking a more granular view of the data reveals that, while office workers have been working fewer hours and producing less, office worker productivity has not improved, but remained broadly unchanged. Office-based labour productivity per hour of work increased by a meagre 0.1 per cent in the three months to June 2020,” Cannington says.

Cannington says one explanation for this may be that “the delineation between work and home has blurred”.

“A lack of separation between home and work has resulted in white collar employees working more dispersed, if not more hours, and survey responses may reflect a feeling of producing ‘more output’ as opposed to ‘more efficient output’,” he explains.

Investa’s analysis also highlights the complexities ahead for businesses considering their long-term workplace strategies, adds Michael Cook, Investa’s group executive of property.

“The office environment remains the critical core of any white-collar business.

“Based on our analysis and the daily conversations we have with our tenants, the solution is one that contains a mix of flexible workplace options,” Cook concludes.