Office occupancy rates ignite working from home debate - Nine Shows

Summary

Melbourne merchandise manager Jenny Searle is among a growing number of employees around the country who say they're done with the office.

Instead of coming home exhausted after spending two hours in traffic every day, Searle now has all the time in the world to walk her dog Wally.

Melbourne merchandise manager Jenny Searle is among a growing number of employees around the country who say they're done with the office.

Instead of coming home exhausted after spending two hours in traffic every day, Searle now has all the time in the world to walk her dog Wally.

She hasn't been back to the office since she was first sent home at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and said working at home is "more productive".

Australia's office occupancy rates following the pandemic have re-ignite the work from home debate amongst employers and workers. (A Current Affair)

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"I don't have to worry about what else is going on in the office, or a conversation that's happening on the other side of the doorway," Searle told A Current Affair.

At the Lighthouse Foundation, the pandemic became yet another challenge for CEO Eamonn McCarthy, who's running a youth homelessness service.

"Having to support a staffing group that provides 24/7 in-home care to young people meant that notions like restrictions weren't feasible. So we did have a number of exempt workers," McCarthy said.

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The charity has adapted, where it can, to hybrid working, but wants employees back in some capacity.

"We do encourage a percentage of time in the office to allow for team collaboration … on average, there's probably about three days a week in the office and two days a week out of the office," McCarthy said.

Many companies have adopted a hybrid working policy, requiring employees back in the office in some capacity (A Current Affair)

Chief Executive of the Property Council of Australia, Ken Morrison believes, "you are less productive if you're not with people".

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"If you're with people, you're more likely to come up with that great idea," Morrison said.

"It's also the way they learn, it's the way they get noticed by the boss."

Office occupancy around the country

Compared to pre COVID-19 days, Adelaide's offices have bounced back the best, at 71 per cent occupancy, followed by Brisbane at 64 per cent and Perth 63 per cent.

Since May last year, Melbourne's offices have only increased in occupancy by three per cent to 48 per cent.

In that same period Sydney office occupancy dropped from 68 per cent to 55 per cent.

What does the law say?

Employment lawyer Andrew Jewell said not everyone has the blessing to work from home.

"We are seeing employers trying to get people back into the office. There is a bit of tension there, because there are some who want to keep with those work from home arrangements," Jewell said.

He said ultimately, companies call the shots, not their workers.

"Subject to whatever is said in a contract, the employer has the right to require someone to attend every day," Jewell said.

But he said, employers are being very careful.

"Because if they say everyone has to be in the office five days a week, their competitor has a competitive advantage straight away," Jewell said.

In this new world of working it appears there's a balance to be struck between business productivity, the economy and what workers want.

But your rights as an employee might not carry as much weight as you think.

The primary right of an employee is to request a flexible working arrangement – but that is a right to request it – so that can be refused on reasonable business grounds," Jewell said.

"What we're seeing probably is employees relying more on their right to choose another employer – so they're sort of saying … 'If you do make me come in five days a week, I can't do much about that legally, but I might just take my work elsewhere'."

Office occupancy rates ignite working from home debate - Nine Shows
Photo Credit: Nine Shows

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