Welcome back to corporates
By Rhonda Dredge
Some businesses in Docklands have come out of lockdown praising their landlords, creating an upbeat mood as office workers began their slow return in January.
One is the Big Italiano, a breakfast, coffee and pizza place in the food court at Collins Square.
Proprietor Anthony Minasi was keen to go on the record about his experience during lockdown.
“The Walker Corporation has been an absolute life-saver for us,” he said. “In April, within two months of COVID, they promised us a [rent] waiver or a breeze.”
He wasn’t able to reveal details of the actual rent reduction because of a confidentiality clause but he compared it favourably to the situation at the Rialto where the business still hasn’t reached an agreement with the landlord for their café Rustica.
According to the Walker Corporation, which manages Collins Square, 18 retailers were trading after lockdown finished in November and there were no vacancies as a result of the pandemic.
There were also promising signs that morning coffee was making a comeback with queues at Mr Collins café, evidence that at least some of the 20,000 office workers in the five towers above were returning.
But it promises to be a slow road back to the kind of village-like conviviality pioneered in Docklands by corporates like NAB. The impromptu meeting over coffee is difficult when many workers are still at home.
Some corporate workers told Docklands News that even though they preferred meeting face-to-face, they were forced to schedule digital meetings to cater for their work-at-home colleagues.
One of the brave pioneers of the return-to-office movement is Michael Papageorgiou, a corporate financier for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
Mr Papageorgiou has been back on level 20 in Tower One for the past three weeks.
“I volunteered,” he said. “I found it easier. My wife is also working from home. At least we don’t kill each other now!”
The hands-on corporate worker is also spending more time in the office than his colleagues.
“I’m working four days a week but most of my team is doing one week on, one week off,” he said.
Mr Papageorgiou chose the food court for his coffee and a meeting with workmates. The Big Italiano is reputed to have the cheapest and best brew in Collins Square at $3.50 for a regular and the CBA financier was receptive.
Traders at the food court are expecting the number of office workers will increase in February, although seating in the court is still limited, forcing those wanting meetings to move chairs around.
“I’ve heard that [work] rosters have been drawn up for next week,” Mr Minasi said, hoping this will force a few more back into the office. “I’m still operating at 15 per cent of business.”
It’s a waiting game for all businesses catering to the corporates but he said the trading situation had been exacerbated by the fact that food courts were forced to close for 14 weeks during the lockdown whereas cafes could keep trading.
From February 8, the state government announced that 75 per cent of both public and private sector workforces would be permitted to return to office work, in what will come as a welcome boost to Docklands. However, this move was temporarily put on pause on February 3 following the news of a hotel quarantine worker contracting the virus •