As New South Wales reopens today, hundreds of thousands of office workers are able to get back to their desks for the first time in months. But as more businesses shift towards hybrid and flexible work, offices may never return to the pre-COVID ‘normal’.
Under the eased restrictions, which came into effect this morning, businesses must still allow employees to work from home if they wish, but those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are welcome to return to the office.
According to data from the City of Sydney, just over 500,000 people work in the CBD area.
A Roy Morgan report released last year suggested that 40% of Sydney workers were working from home during COVID-19 lockdowns, meaning some 200,000 people could be flooding back into offices this week in the CBD alone.
Employees must, however, continue to wear a face mask indoors. Businesses must also have a COVID-19 Safety Plan, and adhere to physical distancing and density limits.
All of this begs the questions as to how many people will actually be headed for the CBD this week, and how business owners are managing the transition for those who are.
Dom Woolyrch, founder and chief executive of Sydney-based Lawpath, tells SmartCompany his offices will be reopening when NSW hits the 80% double-vaccination threshold, and attending the office will be voluntary until at least the end of the year.
Woolrych and his team have also developed a return to work policy, clearly setting out the plan, as well as procedures and safety measures staff members have to be aware of, in order to make the transition “as smooth and effective as possible”.
With his lawyer hat on, he recommends other businesses do the same.
“It’s important that all team members are confident that if they do choose to return to the office, that they feel safe and secure,” he says.
What will the office of the future look like?
A report from UNSW Canberra suggests that the future of office work will revolve much less around an office hub, with workers expressing more interest in a hybrid model.
Associate Professor Sue Williamson, lead author of the report, suggests that we will see other ways of working emerge, with employees meeting up for collaborative or creative work, for example.
Speaking to SmartCompany, Williamson says she believes many workers will be keen to get back to an office environment, largely because of the social aspect and “incidental conversations”.
But we can expect to see a “fundamental transformation” in what those offices look like.
She anticipates more ‘remote hubs’, or satellite offices catering to employees in particular areas. Tech companies in particular are leading the way on this, allowing for better work-life balance.
That’s not to say that the CBD is dead, though. Central offices will still be required for some, and parts may be repurposed as collaborative or creative spaces.
It means it’s not the end of city coffee shops and lunch spots. Rather, as the workforce becomes decentralised, trade will too, bringing more midweek cash to the suburbs.
“Once people are allowed to circulate, they tend to stay still fairly close to home,” Williamson says.
“They’ll still be buying to their local cafes.”