June 21, 2022 | By Graeme Kemlo

Recently released statistics suggest Melbourne’s CBD can attract visitors for wining, dining and events but not as much for work.

Last weekend, the City of Melbourne released results of an independent survey of the first quarter of the year that showed 82 per cent of CBD visitors came for food, beverages and leisure events.

Beyond the first quarter, the council also said evening foot traffic at Southbank  was at 148.8 per cent of pre-COVID levels in early June, peaking at 177.4 per cent of 2019 levels on Friday June 10, while Chinatown reached 108 per cent of the pre-COVID benchmark.  These dates coincide with Melbourne’s Rising Festival.

However, the Q1 survey results show the continued decentralisation of the workforce since the pandemic began – pre-COVID Melbourne generated over $100 billion in gross local product and 500,000 workers filled CBD offices.

The council survey found four in five city workers attended the office at least once in the previous week, up from 62 per cent in February this year and 55 per cent in January and that 40 per cent of workers “expressed a desire to work in the city more often”.

But a different story emerged from Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which reported in a June survey that 42 per cent of employees work in the office one to two days each week, 25 per cent three to four days per week and 19 per cent spend all five working days in the office each week, while 14 per cent of employees had not returned to the office since restrictions lifted.

According to the Chamber survey, the reasons for reluctance to return full time to the office included work-life balance (34 per cent of respondents said this was the main reason), length of commute (29 per cent) and contracting COVID-19 (15 per cent).

A regular Melbourne University survey, Pulse of the Nation from Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic & Social Research found last September that half of Australians worked mostly from home (59 per cent of Victorians and 47 per cent of those in the rest of Australia).

A subsequent Pulse survey in January 2022 showed “most workers (82 per cent) are currently working at least some of their workweek at home, and most (89 per cent) would like to continue working at least part of their workweek at home. One third of Australians would like to spend all of their workweek at home, and 64 per cent would like to work at least half of their workweek from home”.

Commenting on the Pulse survey result, Melbourne Institute Professorial Fellow, Professor Ragan Petrie, said, “The labour market has been permanently disrupted, and workers and employers now need to negotiate where work will be done.”

But the Committee for Melbourne warned that if the city centre “was allowed to wither, we’re putting our state’s economic future at risk”, adding, “of course, some city workers may be content tapping away from their home offices, but it would leave a generation of young professionals behind”.

Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the council was investing a record $33.7 million in the draft 2022-2023 budget to grow Melbourne’s events, culture and creative program.

“We’re delighted to welcome more office workers back to Melbourne as they find their new working rhythm. There’s so much on offer in the city midweek, and we can’t wait to see more workers return to the city more often.”