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August 16, 2022

Not all big businesses are bringing staff back to the city

Only half of the 27 large Adelaide employers surveyed as part of research commissioned by the Adelaide City Council had “actively encouraged” staff to return to work in postcode 5000.

  • Words: Angela Skujins
  • Main image: Tony Lewis

Research by independent agency McGregor Tan shows 52 per cent of all large employers surveyed encouraged employees to work from city premises “more frequently”.

A large employer, for the sake of the survey, is one with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees.

The research also revealed almost three-quarters (77 per cent) of large employers offer “regular hybrid” work arrangements, and 44 per cent had flexible hybrid offerings based on “individual needs”.

“Hybrid working is here to stay, however, having a physical office is important,” the report says.

“Being able to work from home is particularly beneficial for parents accessing childcare or OSCH, and a benefit they are not willing to part with.”

The data were collected from 31 May—1 June and will be presented to the Adelaide City Council this week as part of insights into city habits post-COVID.

We would encourage ‘Corporate Adelaide’ to rethink its current approach and bring people and life back into the CBD.
—Daniel Gannon

Duke of Brunswick publican Simone Douglas is the spokesperson of the local hospitality advocacy group Hospo Owners Collective. She said it was a “concern” only half of large employers surveyed encouraged staff to work in the CBD.

“The challenge that you’ve got, in particular for those CBD-based businesses – not just in hospitality, but all the little small retail operators as well – is that they rely on that footfall, so people who are physically in the city working, and… then paying,” Douglas told CityMag.

“Even though it’s a small sample size, if you don’t have 48 per cent of that footfall, then your business is in trouble.”

The McGregor Tan survey also shows of the 44 per cent of larger employers offering a “flexible” hybrid working arrangement, 26 per cent had a “fixed” hybrid approach — determined by staff policy.

Barriers to accessing the city for daily activities noted in survey responses included cost of parking and personal safety.

Data from the Property Council of Australia’s monthly ‘Office Occupancy Survey’ – reported earlier this month by InDaily – showed a similar trend: Adelaide’s office occupancy rate dropped from 71 per cent in June to 64 per cent in July.

The Hindley Street and Rundle Mall intersection. This picture: Kelly Barnes/AAP


SA Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia Daniel Gannon told CityMag it was “incumbent” on private sector businesses to change their approach.

“Many sectors like banking and finance and large corporate companies have instructed their staff to work from home for almost three years now, with no consideration of South Australia’s comparative success in living with this pandemic,” he said.

“Part of this challenge is that our capital city boasts very few headquartered companies, which means decision-making sits on the eastern seaboard or overseas rather than on Pirie, Waymouth or Grenfell Street.

“While a lot of small businesses in the city need as many public servants as possible to return safely to the workplace, we would encourage ‘Corporate Adelaide’ to rethink its current approach and bring people and life back into the CBD.

“It’s better for our city, it’s better for small businesses and it’s better for workplace collaboration and productivity.”

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor said the council would “continue working closely” with “industry” and State Government to ensure as many people as possible working in the city and North Adelaide.

“Examples of businesses playing a role in attracting staff back to the CBD are the support of events such as Winter Weekends, Illuminate Adelaide and businesses offering staff coffee and meal vouchers, which is great to see,” she said.

“Council has made a concerted effort to activate the city and North Adelaide, facilitating events, and providing dining vouchers. Young professionals are a particular demographic we are focusing on, as we know they view the city as a great place to network with colleagues.

“The ability to be in the office, having coffee or lunch with colleagues and networking can also not be underestimated. I know firsthand just how important those incidental conversations can be.

“It’s clear covid has changed the way people can do business and, while there is no quick fix, we will keep working with all levels of government and business leaders to continue to encourage people back to the city.”

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