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Return to office will be wobbly, handle with care


Were we unaware of how much it can take out of you to communicate meaningfully with bunches of colleagues in real life, or were our adrenal glands so used to running on caffeinated battery-stretch we’d evolved to soldier on?

Were our adrenal glands so used to running on caffeinated battery-stretch we’d evolved to soldier on?

Were our adrenal glands so used to running on caffeinated battery-stretch we’d evolved to soldier on?

And, who forgot to warn us that spontaneous small-talk skills would be yet another casualty of the blasted pandemic (why so first-day-of-school self-conscious)?

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Why should we go back to the office at all, many are asking, when we’ve shown how reliable and productive we are in comfortable pants – even if at times we’ve wanted to smash the PC in fits of “log out and try logging in again!” pique.

We all acknowledge the oft-quoted downsides of being home 24/7: the lack of corridor conversations that can throw up ideas-gold, the “we are one” work-bonding, the fact you can never escape the housework mountain in front of your face, yet no-one can hear you scream (those within range practise selective deafness).

Working from home means we miss out on spontaneous collaboration with colleagues.

Working from home means we miss out on spontaneous collaboration with colleagues.Credit:iStock

And don’t forget the isolation, which many people discussed as “remote” working’s greatest drawback, especially for those who live alone and, introverted or not, find office contact enriching.

We return to our work tribes changed to an extent that perhaps we do not even realise.

No one is suggesting it can’t be, yet many are averse to being pushed, pulled or dragged back and this means what comes next is guaranteed to bring some wobbles. A recent survey by Swinburne University researchers for the Fair Work Commission found only 5 per cent of workers who were sent home during the pandemic want to return full-time, and last week The Age reported a “tussle” brewing between employers and staff over work arrangements for 2021.

According to the The Adapting to the New Normal: Hybrid Working 2021 survey of 600 workers and 300 employers, released by Pitcher Partners Melbourne, Bastion Reputation Management and Bastion Insights, managers are signalling they believe workers are “slacking off” while staff say they’ve been more productive at home.

Clare Gleghorn, chief executive of Bastion Reputation Management, said both employers and staff felt working from home had been a success, but warned if managers became increasingly distrustful and isolation became more entrenched there was trouble ahead.

We return to our work tribes changed to an extent that perhaps we do not even realise.

We return to our work tribes changed to an extent that perhaps we do not even realise.Credit:iStock

Given the “hybrid” model of some work in the office and some at home is likely to be most widely adopted, and the desire of many workers not (yet) to return, the next few months will involve plenty of compassion.

We return to our work tribes changed to an extent that perhaps we do not even realise. Many of us are more cautious, more wary of others and, particularly for those of us who went into long second lockdown, we are carrying the remnants of that puzzling cognitive fog that cruelled our moods and at times crippled our thinking.

Sure we could work through it, but living through it was hard. Summer and incremental freedom largely seared away the malaise, but the emotional echo rings on. I would be comfortable guessing that many of us are still experiencing bouts of feeling tangibly more vulnerable, a state exacerbated rather than relieved by the rough and tumble of pre-COVID office existence.

Employers would do well to understand that a reluctance to return is less likely motivated by a desire to get away with something (how can you, anyway, if your productivity is easily measured) and more likely fuelled by the memories and marks left over from being confined, uncertain and a little bit afraid.

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It will take more than a few trips to the beach to clear the unsettling residue of 2020, so why not allow people to stay home until they feel less tender.

It’s no wonder the couch/computer/pet and coffee set-up is still so appealing to many, we know going back to hubbub will be a different type of tiring. For best results all round please handle us with care.

Wendy Tuohy is a Sunday Age senior writer. Twitter: @wtuohy

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Local News - Victoria

Office workers return, but will the CBD ever be the same?


But others are less sure. The majority of 503 people employed in the city told Roy Morgan – in a poll commissioned by the City of Melbourne in November and December – that they were willing to return to the office, mostly because they missed the routine and their workmates.

But 32 per cent of people would like to work mostly from home and 42 per cent would like to have some regular days at home. Another 18 per cent would like to be able to work remotely when needed.

Prior to COVID-19, only 17 per cent of CBD workers routinely worked from home. Another 26 per cent did so when necessary.

The biggest barrier to getting people back into the office was COVID-19 safety in public (80 per cent of respondents), COVID safety at work (77 per cent) and commuting or parking (77 per cent). Seventy per cent said losing flexible working arrangements was a barrier to returning to their office.

Among those most reluctant to return to their workplaces full-time were people aged 35-49 years with school-aged children.

Management consultant Mark Geels is looking forward to getting back to his desk and seeing his colleagues but expects to continue working from home in some way for the foreseeable future.

“I’ll keep it as flexible as I can. Our workplace very much encourages flexible working and has done so even before the pandemic, but it’s never been as well followed as since the pandemic,” he said.

“I’ll never say never, but I don’t envisage [going to the office] five days a week at least for the next six months.”

He said the pandemic had proven that office workers could be productive at home, but that staff were missing catch-ups and chance encounters with their colleagues.

“Every meeting has to be planned. Rarely are they just spontaneous, and that’s what you really miss out on.”

Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp has pushed for workers – “a vital part of what makes our city great” – to get back into the CBD to help cafes and bars that rely on office staff.

“Our message to workers returning to the city is that we’ve missed you, welcome back,” Cr Capp said.

Mr Geels said workers benefit from chance encounters with their colleagues.

Mr Geels said workers benefit from chance encounters with their colleagues.Credit:Jason South

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry acting chief executive Dugald Murray has predicted that staff numbers might not increase beyond 60 per cent of capacity even when restrictions are eased again in late February, subject to health advice.

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Commercial vacancy rates increased to 13.2 per cent in the last quarter of 2020, according to new data from Macquarie, which described it as “the worst year for demand on record”.

There were 68,000 square metres of empty office space in Melbourne in the quarter, compared to 57,000 in Sydney.

Cr Capp said the council could consider converting under-used offices if working arrangements change in the long term, and acknowledged the city would have to adapt.

“This requires a mindset and policy change after years of managing the momentum of a strongly growing economy,” she said.

“There are going to be challenges for our economy with fewer workers in the city for the immediate future. We also don’t know how flexible working arrangements will play out in the medium and long term.”

“Our team will also be studying our residential population and what opportunities there are to convert under-utilised commercial buildings into apartments and creative spaces.”

However, she said Melbourne “can’t be replicated” and events, hospitality and retail need investment to “build on our strengths to entice people to return”.

Professor Buxton believes the emptying out of commercial buildings will be temporary, saying the greater threat to the CBD was the loss of international students and short-term renters in high-rise apartments.

It’s those buildings that could need to be repurposed for new tenants, he said, cautioning it was too soon to say whether this would eventuate.

“We might just have to look around for other ways to fill large numbers of vacant apartments. One option is public housing, for example,” Professor Buxton said.

He said Australia was one of the only countries in the western world to construct high-rise residential apartments that rely on international arrivals, a “risky model” dependent on international relations.

Before the pandemic hit, students comprised 45 per cent of the residential population in central Melbourne at the time of the 2016 census, many of them international students.

About 40,181 people lived in the CBD in 2016, which was expected to grow by an average 4.1 per cent a year, according to forecasts prepared for the City of Melbourne in 2019.

Danni Hunter, Victorian executive director of the Property Council of Australia, agreed there would be challenges for residential developments without international students.

“Everything’s changed, the fundamentals of what makes the property industry tick has really changed, but there’s a lot of opportunities in it,” she said.

Ms Hunter said there would be a period of transition before it became clear which behavioural changes became permanent.

“The property industry is extremely agile and is already responding to these rapid trends as we change floor plates, build in home offices and become ultra-connected across locations.”

Back in the 1990s, the city council and state government transformed the CBD by encouraging residential development under the Postcode 3000 project, which led to empty office buildings being converted into apartments. It brought thousands of residents into the city.

Several candidates in last year’s city council election advocated for again repurposing empty office buildings into social housing or artist hubs.

Mark Feenane, executive officer of the Victorian Public Tenants Association, said that could be a feasible option to address the shortfall in public housing.

“If existing buildings can be repurposed into safe, long-term housing that gives Victorians an opportunity to live with dignity, that would warrant serious consideration.”

COVID-19 rules changing from 11.59pm on Sunday, January 17

-From Monday, private workplaces will be able to increase to 50 per cent staff capacity and the Victorian public service will be able to return to 25 per cent staff capacity at each site.

-Masks will no longer be required in most workplaces. They will only be mandatory on all domestic flights, at airports, in hospitals, on public transport, in commercial passenger vehicles, at supermarkets and shopping centres.

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Business

Major employers delay return to office until February


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In NSW, the public health order requiring companies to allow employees to work from home no longer applies, but social distancing requirements mean offices can only be half-full at any given time.

The Commonwealth Bank, which is the nation’s biggest bank employing more than 40,000 people, said it is going to keep the hybrid model – staff split between office and remote working – through to February.

“We continue to monitor the situation and are currently looking to a hybrid return for many of our people in February, pending no new health concerns or restrictions are advised by the Victorian or NSW governments,” a CBA spokesman said.

“Flexibility and remote working will be important in helping us manage building occupancy rates to ensure we comply with physical distancing requirements.”

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Telstra is also taking a cautious approach, and a spokesman said Melbourne staff were being encouraged to work from home until the end of January.

The telco said it would continue to enable flexible work conditions after restrictions are eased after staff said they “no longer want to spend Monday to Friday in a traditional office environment”.

“As things return to normal, many see themselves coming into the office up to two days a week to collaborate, see customers, and connect with their team. But there’s a wide range of views on this, with some keen to come back into the office full-time and others not at all,” the spokesman said.

Melbourne-headquartered National Australia Bank updated its policy on Friday to reflect the Victorian government’s new rules and will start to bring Melbourne employees back to the office next week.

“Our priority continues to be the safety of our colleagues, customers and the community, and any future plans will be in line with government advice and protocols.”

Travel between Sydney and Melbourne remains banned, and one major bank will have to change plans for a board meeting that was scheduled to take place in Victoria in early February.

Like Telstra, other employers also say they’ve adapted well to the remote working model and will cut down on corporate travel and in-person meetings regardless of the health advice.

Australia’s second-largest health insurer, Medibank, said the Sydney office would be reopened “shortly”, but a phased return of Melbourne offices would be delayed until February. Medibank people and culture executive Kylie Bishop said flexible working conditions would be adopted permanently in both cities.

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“Both these sites will reopen subject to government advice at the time and with a COVIDSafe plan in place,” she said. “Medibank is moving to a new way of working in 2021, with the type of work to determine the setting, whether that be in the office, at home or another location.”

Officeworks and Bunnings, subsidiaries of retail conglomerate Wesfarmers, are not encouraging office staff to return to their workplace until February.

Australian tech giant Atlassian, which is based in Sydney, will keep working remotely.

The country’s third-largest bank, Westpac, declined to comment on border politics, with chief executive Peter King on leave, but a spokesman said the bank would continue to review the latest guidance for its city offices and branch network.

“Corporate office employees working during this time are asked to work from home, unless it is business critical to be in the workplace.

“We plan to progressively increase the number of people working in our corporate offices when it is safe to do so, and are monitoring the current situation closely,” the spokesman said.

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Local News - Victoria

Up to 50% of city workers to return to office from Monday, mask rules relaxed


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“To get to this eight days in a row of zero is no small thing and it’s a credit to all of our public health team and a credit to all Victorians who play their part in doing so,” he said.

However, Mr Andrews predicted that many Victorians would continue to work from home, saying flexible working arrangements were no longer “a concept”, but “the lived experience for many people over a long year”.

“They’re gonna want much more flexible working arrangements,” he said.

“They can do the job from home for some part of the week and they’re going to want to do that.

“I’ve had nothing but positive feedback from many, many very big employers about productivity not really being impacted, [and] in fact, in many cases, actually being enhanced by people working in a much more flexible way.”

The return-to-work schedule was pushed back last Wednesday, when there were 28 active cases of COVID-19, and a man with no apparent link to the Black Rock cluster was diagnosed with the virus.

From Monday, up to half of all private sector workers can begin working from their desks again, while Victoria’s public service, the city’s largest employer, can bring back up to a quarter of staff.

Mr Andrews said the government had capped the return of public servants at a lower setting to give the private sector more capacity to bring workers back.

The news will be welcomed by many thousands of Victorians who have been working from makeshift home offices since March.

However, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce expects the return to be a slow, drawn-out process and major employers, including NAB, Westpac and ANZ, have said their staff will return in stages, mostly from next month.

As The Age revealed on Wednesday, a Fair Work Commission survey found that only 5 per cent of workers want to return to the office full-time.

The survey of 322 users of the social media site LinkedIn by researchers at Swinburne University found that 35 per cent of participants would prefer to work from home every day, and a majority would like to split their time between home and office.

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One of the report’s authors, John Hopkins, said most employers were developing plans to allow flexible work arrangements, but, in some cases, they were insisting workers return to the office full-time.

Industrial lawyers have warned workers could be sacked if they refuse a request from their employer to return to the office once their workplace is deemed safe and the Victorian government relaxes restrictions on attendance.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said authorities were “relatively confident” there was no community transmission in Victoria, but urged people to remain vigilant.

“What we’d like to do is encourage employers to be flexible to allow staggered start times,” he said. “Employers hopefully understand the need to be flexible and to make sure that not everyone’s going into the building at the same time, but obviously it will be different for different employers.”

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Pre-COVID, almost half the estimated 1 million people who travelled into the CBD every day did so for work, leaving CBD businesses heavily reliant on office workers for financial survival.

At the 2016 census there were 37,341 residents of the CBD, almost half (45 per cent) of whom were students.

But since Australia shut its borders in March, applications by foreign citizens to study in Australia have collapsed by more than 80 per cent. The number of international students is expected to be half its pre-pandemic total by mid 2021.

Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp said having office workers return to the CBD would be a lifeline for city retail and hospitality businesses.

Mr Andrews said: “This will be a massive boost not only for the office workplaces in the heart of Melbourne, but the cafes, restaurants, bars and shops that rely on their business – it will be fantastic to see the city coming alive again.”

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Workers have no right to refuse call to return to office, say lawyers


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The survey of 322 users of the social media site LinkedIn by researchers at Swinburne University found that 35 per cent of participants would prefer to work from home every day and a majority would like to split their time between home and office.

One of the report’s authors, John Hopkins, said most employers were developing plans to allow flexible work arrangements but in some cases, they were insisting workers return to the office full-time.

Slater and Gordon principal lawyer Andrew Rich said whether workers had legal recourse to refuse came down to whether the direction from their employers was reasonable.

“If you have a contract of employment [and] it was understood that you’d work from the office … and now it’s been deemed safe for you to return [and] there has been measures put in place within the workplace so to comply with government guidelines, then, in general, people will need to comply with that direction,” he said.

There are some circumstances under the Fair Work Act where workers have the right to make a request for flexible working arrangements, including working from home, and employers must consider them.

These include if the workplace isn’t following a COVID-safe plan, having a medical condition that makes a worker more susceptible to respiratory infection, needing to care for a family member or being over the age of 55.

However, employers can refuse these requests.

Maurice Blackburn senior associate Patrick Turner said employers had a duty of care to provide a safe workplace and workers concerned about whether a direction to return to the office was reasonable should first contact their union or a lawyer.

“The consequences for refusing a reasonable and lawful direction are potentially serious,” he said, adding that they included warnings and dismissal.

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Mr Rich said there was more capacity for workers without extenuating circumstances to negotiate working from home than before the pandemic due to a change in perspective from employers.

Mr Rich said whether the current legislation needed more teeth would depend on how employers responded to the situation.

Mr Turner said there was room for reform to better protect workers’ rights, ensure safe workplaces and preserve work life balance in a COVID-normal world.

The survey for the Fair Work Commission report, released in November, was conducted in May after the first wave of the pandemic forced lockdowns across the country.

Dr Hopkins, a Swinburne University lecturer and founder of WorkFlex, said he suspected the amount of people preferring to work from home was likely to have increased even more since then as they adapted to the situation.

He said many respondents described feeling mixed emotions about returning to the office.

“People will probably be looking forward to seeing their colleagues again, but probably not as keen [to be] getting on a packed train again,” he said.

“Obviously, the pandemic hasn’t finished. There’s still a nervousness around public transport and mixing with people, particularly in areas where you can’t socially distance.”

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Dr Hopkins said people looking forward to returning to the office needed to be aware that reduced numbers might mean a change in atmosphere or culture.

“The office is going to feel different when people do return,” he said.

Office workers Teri Tran and Naomi Lions returned to work at a large corporate Melbourne CBD office for the first time since March on Tuesday.

The pair, who will be splitting their time between the office and home, want the flexibility to do both.

“You have to wear [office] clothes again, you have to do things that you didn’t have to do at home, but it’s been a nice change,” Ms Lions said.

Ms Tran said a negative to returning was a one-hour commute.

Teri Tran says her one-hour commute is one of the downsides of returning to the office.

Teri Tran says her one-hour commute is one of the downsides of returning to the office.Credit:Joe Armao

The pair said they preferred collaborating face-to-face than trying to speak to colleagues via the internet.

They also said it was easier to potentially work overtime from home and that having to leave and catch a train home was a good way to mark the end of their working day.

“You take your breaks [at work] … instead of just sitting in front of a computer all the time. You can kind of forget when you’re at home to do those kind of things,” she said.

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Local News - Victoria

Workers to learn when CBD office buildings will be open for business


The return-to-work schedule was pushed back last Wednesday, when there were 28 active cases of COVID-19, and a man with no apparent link to the Black Rock cluster was diagnosed with the virus.

Although half of all private sector workers were due to return to the workplace from January 11, Victoria’s public service, the city’s largest employer, was only set to bring back a quarter of staff.

Fifty per cent of public servants would have been back at their desks from February 8 under the phased plan.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien on Tuesday pushed for the government to speed up the return of public servants, in line with the private sector.

“Small business is bleeding out there. Small business is desperate for workers to come back to the office and to do it safely,” Mr O’Brien said.

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“If 50 per cent is safe for the private sector then 50 per cent is safe for the public sector too. The more workers we get back into the CBD, the more life our city will have back and the more jobs in small business we’ll be able to save.”

Property Council executive director Danni Hunter said the return of Victoria’s public servants to city offices would inspire confidence in the corporate sector and speed up return-to-work plans.

“There will be a bit of a lag,” Ms Hunter said. “It takes a while to bring people back.”

Office worker Angelique, who declined to provide her surname, visited her small CBD office on Tuesday to prepare for her return after working from home since March.

“It’s nice to get out and feel like you’ve got a bit more purpose going somewhere. It’s been really nice,” Angelique said.

The mother-of-two, who works for a small oil exploration company, said she didn’t enjoy working at home while her children weren’t at school, and couldn’t wait to permanently return to the office.

“It was quite difficult for me being out of the office.”

The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry want an announcement by Wednesday afternoon allowing for the return of more workers from next week.

“[We] understood the reasoning behind the government’s pause on the planned return of office workers to the CBD, but given the current positive situation, we are hopeful that more office workers will be permitted to return from Monday,” chief executive officer Paul Guerra said.

“We’d like to see an announcement on this in the next 24 hours to give both employers and employees time to adequately plan, especially considering childcare implications during the school holidays. Removing the requirement to wear masks inside the office would also incentivise employees to return to the workplace.”

A government spokeswoman said details would be revealed “soon”.

“The public health team reviewed Victoria’s return-to-work schedule in light of the current coronavirus outbreak, linked to the ongoing situation in NSW,” she said.

“The progression of the return-to-work plan for both the public sector and commercial offices was paused for one week, last week, and the government will have more to say soon.”

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Australian News

Eastern tiger snake found in Parks Victoria office


A veteran snake catcher has been called in for help after a metre-long serpent was spotted curled up beneath a microwave inside the staff kitchen of a Victorian government agency office.

Mark Pelley, known as the snake hunter, said he received the phone call from a Parks Victoria staff member about 9.30am on Monday.

Upon arrival at the office in Westerfolds Park, Templestowe, Mr Pelley said he saw the head of the eastern tiger snake poking out from under the microwave.

He said he lifted the microwave out from the cupboard and, within minutes, captured the snake.

Mr Pelley said in all his years wrangling serpents across Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne, he had never caught one hiding under a microwave.

“The office staff did a great job of watching it from a safe distance – they all had their cameras out videoing me and gave a big cheer when I captured it,” he said.

“The closest a snake has ever been to a microwave in my experience was a snake hiding on the third shelf of someone’s pantry behind a Milo tin … but never under a microwave.”

Eastern tiger snakes can grow up to two metres long.

They are considered highly venomous and should never be approached.



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Shaver Shop sales soar as office trims return


“COVID came along, barbers and hairdressers started to close, and people started to think ‘hang on a second, how do I get this look that I want’?” he said.

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“So they started doing it themselves, which lent itself to us getting a bit of a kicker.”

Shaver Shop’s sales rallied all throughout 2020, which Mr Fox has attributed in part to the growth and cultivation of many ‘lockdown beards’, however, the executive expects demand for his products to stay strong even as workers settle back into office life.

“At the moment, everyone’s going towards beards and beard care, which maybe is because of lockdown where people have let their hair grow a bit longer than normal,” he said.

“Now, when COVID-19 ends … and everyone starts going back to the office, maybe beard trimmers will soften but electric shavers, and being clean-shaven, will grow.”

“We benefit no matter how the pendulum swings.”

Shaver Shop expects first-half profit to grow by as much as 85 per cent.

Shaver Shop expects first-half profit to grow by as much as 85 per cent. Credit:Jenny Evans

Shaver Shop is far from the only retailer to benefit from the pandemic’s side effects, with major players such as JB Hi-Fi, Kogan, Wesfarmers and Premier Investments all seeing higher sales and massive online growth in recent months.

Recent retail figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed a record 13.3 per cent rise in retail sales for November, spurred on by the Black Friday sales period.

Mr Fox said while Shaver Shop had participated in the sales event the company had taken a more moderate approach, with less aggressive discounting on best-selling items. This helped the business’ gross profits increase 2 per cent for the period.

Shares in Shaver Shop have risen over 50 per cent in the past year, and jumped as much as 18 per cent on Monday to hit a new all-time high of $1.25 before easing to be up 11 per cent mid-afternoon.

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Local News - Victoria

Pandemic provides opportunity to rethink the CBD as office workers stay away


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The Victorian public service – the largest employer of workers in the city – was due to bring back up to 25 per cent of its staff from next Monday.

The phased return was due to cover up to 50 per cent of public servants from February 8, subject to health advice.

Commercial offices in the CBD were set to have up to 50 per cent of staff capacity from next Monday.

But on Tuesday a state government spokeswoman said both programs would be revised because of Victoria’s recent coronavirus outbreak and cases in NSW.

“The government has asked the public health team to review Victoria’s return to work schedule,” the spokeswoman said.

Given the evolving COVID-19 risk, major employers and the Victorian Chamber of Commerce expect the return to be a slow, drawn-out process.

NAB, Westpac, ANZ and other major employers say their staff will return in stages, mostly from next month.

“The [hospitality] industry is banking on a boost for the city to come back, there’s no doubt about that,” Mr Grossi said.

“It’s just one of those things. We’ve had a bit of a blow now with this last couple of weeks of cases having come back.

“So obviously everybody’s a bit shaken up by that, and not feeling great about it … we’ve gone through some really hard times last year so, hopefully, we’ve got all the positive spirit and energy that we could possibly muster up and get over it and keep moving forward rather than seeing us go backwards.”

Kirk’s Wine Bar owner Ian Curley said there were “no real surprises any more”.

“You can’t really predict anything,” he said.

Ian Curley, chef and owner at Kirk's Wine Bar.

Ian Curley, chef and owner at Kirk’s Wine Bar.Credit:Joe Armao

“We were sort of hoping that everything was going to be good and we had that little spurt just before Christmas where everybody seemed to be out and about and happy. And now we’re back to, like, we could go either way at the moment, I think.”

While many venues draw patrons into the CBD for a dining or drinking experience, the precinct is heavily reliant on office workers for day-to-day income.

Pre-COVID, almost half the estimated 1 million people who travelled into the CBD every day did so for work, while relatively few people call the CBD home.

At the 2016 census, 45 per cent of the then 37,341 CBD residents were students.

Since Australia shut its borders in March, applications by foreign citizens to study in Australia have collapsed by more than 80 per cent. The number of international students is expected to be half its pre-pandemic total by mid 2021.

Fleur Brown, head of industry affairs at the Australian Retailers Association, said working-from-home arrangements for city workers and university students, combined with the loss of international students and cultural events, was hitting “CBD retail ecosystems” hard.

“In the short to medium-term we’re unlikely to see pre-COVID-level CBD office populations, with workers and employers favouring more of a hybrid approach to working,” she said.

“This is not only a safety and social distancing choice, it is becoming a lifestyle choice as well. Once formed, consumer habits tend to stick.”

Ms Brown said there was an opportunity this year to rethink and redesign the CBD model, including retail, “and leasing relationships need to be reimagined as part of this”.

“Whilst CBD worker populations are traditionally the largest group, it’s a connected ecosystem, with hospitality, cultural and residential life all feeding the retail sector.

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“We all need to work together to revitalise the CBD and create a dynamic visitor opportunity. CBDs are powerful precincts with a magnetic pull when all these stakeholders work together to attract people into the centre.”

City of Melbourne chief executive Justin Hanney said the council was focused on the return of office workers.

“Ensuring the safe return of city workers remains a priority to help boost Melbourne’s economic recovery and reinvigorate our streets,” he said.

“The safe return of more people to our city will boost the confidence of employers and employees alike and encourage the return of more workers in the future, creating crucial jobs as our economy recovers and reactivates.”

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Local News - Victoria

Man arrested after fire at prominent solicitor Stephen Andrianakis’ East Melbourne office


Mr Andrianakis has repeatedly acted as Mokbel’s solicitor, including throughout his Court of Appeal hearing challenging a 30-year prison term for drug trafficking in 2013.

The prominent solicitor was also involved in the trial of John Higgs, who was jailed for 18 years in 2013 for his role in the failed importation of 15 million ecstasy tablets hidden in tomato cans – the world’s largest ecstasy haul at the time, with a street value of $122 million.

And Mr Andrianakis was involved in a successful bid for bail by Ali El Nasher in the Court of Appeal in June this year. Mr El Nasher allegedly stomped on the head of someone during a fatal shootout at a boxing match in Kensington last year. He is on bail after being charged with attempted murder.

A 47-year-old Coburg man was arrested on Sunday and was assisting police with their inquiries into the fire. No one has been charged in relation to the blaze.

When contacted by The Age on Sunday, Mr Andrianakis said he would not comment on the circumstances of the fire, as the police investigation was ongoing.

The partially burnt building also contains travel agency SEtravel and Mediserve Nursing Agency. The Melbourne offices of both organisations could not be contacted before deadline.

Detectives and the police arson squad visited the scene as part of their investigation on Sunday.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Fire Brigade said: “Crews arrived on scene in less than five minutes and quickly extinguished a fire that had taken hold of rubbish near a door and under a balcony. Firefighters remained on scene checking for any potential fire spread and to ensure the fire was fully extinguished, before handing the scene to Victoria Police.”

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