How cities are luring people back

Governments and companies are earning workers’ commute

April 22, 2022

As the return to workplaces builds momentum, businesses and governments are teaming up to help encourage employees to make the commute.

Sydney, for example, is partnering with office landlords, building mangers and businesses to promote a range of free and ticketed events and activities to employees – including visual art, live music, cultural events and performances. The city is showcasing activities city workers can to do in their lunch break individually, or to reconnect socially with colleagues or clients as part of their workday.

Melbourne is aiming to boost foot traffic during the week by offering diners 25% off food and drink between Monday and Thursday at any restaurant, café or bar in the city.

Such efforts are coupled with what businesses are doing for their employees. Supporting hybrid working and prioritising wellbeing to help employees return to the office continues to be an important part of businesses’ post-pandemic workplace strategy.

Research by the Property Council of Australia shows these efforts are starting to pay off with office occupancy rates more than doubling in March compared to February. Sydney and Melbourne office occupancy rates sat at only 18% and 15% of pre-COVID occupancy in February but jumped to 41% and 32% respectively in March.

“It’s going to take more than great office amenities to lure people from their desk at home to their desk at the office,” says Abigail Campion, placemaking and customer experience expert at JLL. “We need to earn peoples’ commute with a workplace that’s a social and collaboration hub. Selling the city is an extension of that.”

Urban efforts

In addition to events at lunch or after work, Sydney is encouraging businesses to take advantage of fee waivers on outdoor dining permits and relaxed rules to make it easier for venues to turn footpaths and roads into outdoor dining spaces. The city is also making new business and creative grants available to encourage the development of new attractions and events in the city centre.

“A key part of creating a sense of place and community is with events,” Campion says. “While we want people to be in the office, the value of going to an event in the CBD and to make new connections and to reconnect more deeply with colleagues and clients can’t be underestimated.

“Technology has facilitated many aspects of flexible working but there is an important element of face-to-face interaction that facilitates meaningful connections that is important for businesses to retain clients and employees,” Campion says.


Looking for more insights? Never miss an update.

The latest news, insights and opportunities from global commercial real estate markets straight to your inbox.

The need to create a sense of community and connection has also become a new priority for building mangers and landlords. Richard Fennell, JLL’s head of property asset management, says landlords and organisations in the CBD are now competing with suburban communities and workspaces and need to find new ways to ensure office spaces are attractive to organisations and their employees.

“If you have a good building with great amenities, you will fill it,” Fennell says. “The challenge is understanding what the community wants and needs so you can create a sense of connection and enjoyment while they are in the building. Increasingly, this is about tapping into the sharing economy and inviting retailers and other businesses into office spaces to provide social opportunities for occupants.”

For example, in partnership with the National Art Gallery an art talk series is being held in the lobbies and third spaces of office buildings in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Canberra. Held at lunchtime, the one-off exclusive cultural events feature artists, curators and special guests, and are aimed at encouraging workers to return to the office. And in Sydney’s Liberty Place office building, building managers have installed additional outdoor seating, plants and shade for office workers who would like to get away from their desk and work outdoors.

Spontaneous face-to-face interactions outside of the office can also boost workplace productivity.

“There is value in breaking out of your bubble and running into people you know on your commute, in a coffee shop, while dropping off your dry cleaning or shopping in your lunch break, these interactions provide opportunities for idea sharing and problem solving,” Campion says.

Looking for more insights? Never miss an update.

The latest news, insights and opportunities from global commercial real estate markets straight to your inbox.