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CBD economy faces years on the road to recovery

According to the analysis, Melbourne has the highest percentage of professional office-based workers compared with other cities in the country, at 76 per cent against a national average of 44 per cent.

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A hesitancy to venture into tightly packed workplaces, streets and laneways means fewer cash injections to hospitality, retail, transport and entertainment, which is denting Melbourne’s economic recovery.

Analysis of Google mobility data measuring the number of people attending workplaces revealed Melbourne had plummeted the most – by about two-thirds, or 67 per cent – followed closely by Sydney at 62 per cent.

Deloitte forecasts that by 2025, more than 330,000 workers will be in offices in Melbourne’s CBD each day. Sydney is forecast to have a slower return to offices than Melbourne and is not expected to reach pre-COVID levels before 2025.

The return to office work in Melbourne has been gradual, yet the analysis indicates the reluctance to suit up and travel in is not permanent and the CBD could expect stronger traffic soon.

Mr Zahra said more needed to be done to adapt to the new normal and address the trend of flexible working, which has accelerated during the pandemic.

“There’s got to be a reality check on exactly what’s happening from an office worker perspective,” he said. “The workforce will land on a hybrid model, where people will be able to work partly from home, partly in the office.

“That’s significant, for a lot of small businesses rely heavily on foot traffic from office workers coming down to grab a coffee, to grab their lunch or to buy food to take home for dinner.

“Melbourne will absolutely bounce back. How long it takes, who can say?”

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