Welcome signs in local economy as more office workers return

Welcome signs in local economy as more office workers return
Sean Car

Green shoots are appearing in the local economy with latest data from the City of Melbourne confirming more workers are returning to the office in Docklands than ever before since the end of COVID-19 lockdowns.

The council’s most recent pedestrian data provided to Docklands News, which recorded activity for the month of August, showed increases of more than 120 per cent in some parts of the precinct during commuting hours compared with 2022.

The council’s pedestrian counters monitor areas at NewQuay and Bourke Street Bridge, as well as near Victoria Point, which respectively showed increases of 32, 82 and 121 per cent during weekday commuting hours of 5am to 10am, and 3pm to 7pm.

While the data may only represent a small sign that Docklands workers are increasing their hours spent in the office, there has been further indication during September that numbers continue to grow as Melbourne enters the warmer months.

The council’s inflation-adjusted spending data from August also showed that spending across Docklands increased 12.3 per cent compared to the year prior, while spending in July was also up 5.5 per cent compared with the same month in 2019.

Encouragingly, 88.2 per cent of all spending in Docklands in August was from visitors (people living outside the City of Melbourne municipality), compared to 88 per cent the year prior, and 90.6 per cent in June 2019.

Docklands Chamber of Commerce president Daniel Hibberd said while the local economy was still struggling to recover from COVID-19 in many areas, there were some “really positive” signs of trends going in the right direction.

“Spring is definitely bringing people back out to the offices,” Mr Hibberd said. “I think this is the beginning of a trend that will continue in this vein over the next six to 12 months, so we’re really encouraged to see that.”


Around Marvel Stadium, seeing that we’ve got a few food and coffee venues on Bourke St that have actually started to see lunchtime lines again mid-week, I think that’s really positive – it’s been a long time since you’ve seen that.


Lord Mayor Sally Capp said it was great to see more workers returning to the office in Docklands aided by the council’s investment in major events in the precinct.

“Melburnians lucky enough to work harbour-side in Docklands are visiting the office at much higher rates than a year ago – as non-stop events, shopping and gold-star hospitality draw office workers back to the city,” Cr Capp said.

“Our investment in Docklands continues to boost the area as a wonderful place to work – from greening the promenade and creating attractive new spaces, to bringing people to the precinct for major events as they clock off for the day, including Now or Never and Firelight Festival.” 

Following the lapse of the council’s “night-time economy” committee on June 30, it has since shifted focus to boosting day-time trade through the establishment of a new “city economy advisory committee”.

The Lord Mayor said the committee would “draw on the expertise of business and industry representatives to help us find new ways to bring people into Melbourne across the day”.

The council said it had also provided custom communications materials to the CEOs of city-based companies “featuring the incredible range of activities on offer in the city for inclusion in their internal newsletters and intranets”.

At last year’s Docklands Summit, Kathryn van der Merwe, talent and culture group executive at one of Docklands’ biggest employers ANZ, said bringing office workers back was important as it sought ways to “collaborate and do those things we need them to do when they come into the workspace”.

“We’re not trying to compete with working from home, we’re trying to make it an experience when you come into the workplace feel different … that’s about coming in together, spending time together in spaces to have shared meals, shared drinks after work,” Ms van der Merwe said at the time.

ANZ’s corporate head office at 833 Collins St is one of nine ANZ offices across Australia, including four in Melbourne.

In an effort to reintroduce convenience elements at 833 Collins St, ANZ has recently added a pop-up 7/11 store that is accessible to its staff and neighbouring office workers, in addition to its three onsite cafes.  

An ANZ spokesperson told Docklands News that while it has always embraced flexible working arrangements, it said, “increasingly, our people are demonstrating they want to be in the office, and we continue to focus on making sure the office environment supports this new hybrid world in which we are working.”

“Those team members that can work from home see great benefits basing themselves across the home and office setting. Working alongside colleagues creates a different kind of connection and teamwork than is possible virtually. Working in the office creates opportunities for informal learning and development, and helps establish and maintain interpersonal relationships,” the ANZ spokesperson said.

“We expect our people who can work flexibly to spend 50 per cent of their time in the office.” •

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