“If we don’t get people back into the CBD and back to work, this recession is going to be far more painful than it needs to be.
“The key reason is that the GDP across Australia – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide – generate the majority of GDP in this country. I implore business leaders to get their people back to work.”
CBDs need to thrive
Conry said: “Getting people back to work, literally back to work and into the office, is one of the most important issues facing the national economy.
“You can’t have a strong economy without thriving CBDs. The businesses in those offices will thrive better and be more productive with everybody working together.
“You have more people in a CBD office building than you do in many country towns. Every building contributes massively to our economy, and those buildings need to be filled.”
Conry said it did not make sense for government workers in Queensland, NSW and Western Australia to be working from home given the low COVID-19 infection rates in those states.
Allen said the lack of government workers in CBD offices could soon change in Sydney because of efforts by the NSW Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, who has been in discussions with property companies about Treasury and other departments returning to work.
Tol said the “working from home honeymoon is over”. But he stressed that workers and companies needed to maintain flexibility and optionality in their workplace choices.
Transport concerns remain
But Kylie Rampa, chief executive of property at Lendlease, pushed back against the idea of forcing workers to return to the office.
She said if people can work productively from home they are encouraged to do so in order to allow people working on critical work streams to be at the office.
But she raised a sharp response from Steinberg when she said “the workforce is still quite concerned about transportation to and from the office”.
“It’s getting people en masse and so we’re talking about more mass production in the office, and we’re not ready for that and I don’t think our cities are ready for that, but we need to get ready for that,” she said.
Domain Holdings chief executive Jason Pellegrino pushed back hard against the idea of forcing people to attend the office.
“My single biggest asset – and it’s daylight between this and the second biggest asset – is my people, and if we push people beyond where they’re comfortable going, we’ll lose people,” he said
Pellegrino said there was logic to calls for people to return to CBD offices but in the technology space he was up against companies that had told their staff they can work from home forever.
“So, the moment I say you have to come to the office, that is a condition of employment and it’s five days a week, I’m actually at a competitive disadvantage for talent,” he said.
About 140 people attended the summit in person and another 300 were registered to watch it online.