Thousands of Melburnians to return to the office as Daniel Andrews reveals next steps back to the workplace
Melbourne architect Sarah Ouyang is mostly feeling pretty good about getting back to work at a shared office block in Docklands.
The Brunswick East woman, like tens of thousands of Victorians, has been working from home since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in March.
But yesterday, Premier Daniel Andrews announced businesses will be able to bring up to 25 per cent of those office workers back on-site from November 30.
Businesses of fewer than 40 people will be allowed to have 10 staff back at work.
“[It will be] nice to be able to separate my home life and work life, currently I’m just pretty much at home most of the day,” Ms Ouyang said.
Her employer has developed a COVID-safe plan and she is looking forward to the collaborative environment that comes with a shared office space.
But she is not looking forward to the commute.
Ms Ouyang’s business is considering staggered starting times to reduce demand during peak hour and avoid fuelling a return to the crammed trains and trams of pre-pandemic days.
“Is it going to be really packed again, like before COVID? That would be my concern.”
Northcote financial services worker Brighid Pappin has also enjoyed eliminating the commute from her day.
Sharing an apartment with her husband, sister and brother-in-law at the start of the pandemic meant her workday was anything but lonely, even during the city’s tough lockdown.
“There was a lot of musical chairs,” she said.
“It got pretty tight sometimes — when everyone is on the phone or on a Zoom meeting, you’ve got to close a few doors, but it was alright in the end.
“We got through it … we bought a portable coffee machine to allow us to function.”
She said most Melbourne office workers had been based at home for so long now, it felt normal to talk to colleagues through a screen or have Friday drinks via Zoom.
“I think we’ll reach an equilibrium where some people work from the office, some people work from home and maybe there’ll be a bit more working from home than there was before — the flexibility is a real benefit that a lot of people love and I’d like to see that continue,” she said.
Gradual worker return to smooth logistical bumps
The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s director Paul Guerra said there were benefits to putting just a fraction of workers back in offices. It offered an opportunity to test logistics around public transport, road congestion and elevator usage in buildings, he said.
“A cap of 25 per cent will enable us to trial that, come back to the office in an orderly fashion and then as we get that down pat, we would like to see those numbers increase,” he said.
Public transport services are now running to normal timetables and additional cleaning is being carried out across the network.
While masks are no longer required outdoors, they are still mandatory while travelling on public transport.
Metro Trains last month assured the public that the daily sanitisation of trains was up to standard, after an anti-corruption investigation revealed a former manager took $150,000 in corrupt cash payments from a cleaning company and told them he would “cover up” for them after they failed to spray a train down earlier in the year.
Path forwards for major events
Mr Guerra said the release of clear guidelines for major event organisers would also enable every sector to reopen and bring Melbourne’s global reputation as an events city back to life.
Under the new rules, public events will be sorted into three tiers:
- Tier 1: Highly complex and involving more than 5,000 attendees
- Tier 2: Moderately complex involving between 500 and 5,000 attendees
- Tier 3: Low complexity and involving 500 attendees or less
Events that fall into the Tier 3 category can occur in line with published guidelines, while organisers of Tier 1 and 2 events will need to submit their plans for approval based on public health advice.
The business group also welcomed boosted patron caps for hospitality venues and the establishment of more relaxed density limits to help smaller cafes and restaurants get back on their feet.
‘Melbourne really is opening its arms again’
Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Sally Capp said for CBD businesses still teetering on the brink of closure, the confirmation of a date for office workers to return would give them confidence to keep opening their doors each day.
“The return of those city workers for our local cafes, from early morning coffees and croissants through to late-night drinks at bars, all of those experiences are now more viable as a result of this easing of restrictions,” she said.
Cr Capp said eased restrictions for theatres and the city’s cultural institutions such as the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) were further signs of the city regaining its soul.
“As a signal to the fact that Melbourne really is opening its arms again to welcome people back, the NGV is one of those beacons for us,” she said.
Opposition pushes for faster public sector return to CBD
Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien welcomed most of the changes, but questioned why 1,000 people were allowed inside casinos but only 150 in churches, synagogues and mosques.
“I think there’s some questions for the Premier to answer about why the casino is so much more important in terms of numbers coming in than places of faith and religious worship,” he said.
He also suggested public sector workers, who Mr Andrews said would continue to work from home while the private sector began the return to offices, should come back earlier.
“The longer the Premier keeps all the public service working at home, the harder it’s going to be for those CBD small businesses,” he said.
Mr O’Brien said given hospitality was a female-dominated industry, helping that industry reopen faster key to addressing the impact of the pandemic on female employment in Victoria.
Victorians begin to plan COVID-safe Christmas lunch
The Norman family was celebrating Sunday’s announcement as well, as they learnt they would be able to bring together 30 people around the Christmas table.
Victorians will be able to host up to 30 visitors in their homes from December 14, which means Christmas lunch will include Tricia and Trevor Norman’s three adult sons and entire extended family.
“It’s been such a difficult year for families,” Ms Norman said.
“We’ve had loss and much sadness in our family too so that opportunity to be together and for hospitality, to celebrate Christmas is just wonderful, a wonderful end of the year.”
She said she expected there would be extra hand-washing, but other than that, it would be much like a regular Christmas.
“It’s a blessing we’ll be able to gather, so let’s respect that and be aware of personal space and hygiene,” she said.