Enjoying new habits as city wakes from COVID-19 slumber

Habits can be hard to break and I’m sure we all felt a bit uncertain last week as office workers started to return after the better part of two years working from home.


As expected, the return to the office - and the CBD in particular - has been a gradual one. The flow of the city has changed, and will continue to change, post-pandemic. Hybrid working is here to stay and this new flexibility is generally a good thing for employers and employees alike.
Over the past two years we’ve formed new habits and rhythms of working. We did away with the daily commute and the morning rush to get ourselves into the office that went with it. We’ve been able to dress down, eat lunch at home and even take a walk around our neighbourhood whenever we felt like it. I know more than a few dogs that began to hide at the sight of the leash!
But we also lost something in the process. Things that we can’t do when we are confined to a screen in our homes. We couldn’t meet colleagues and clients face to face and enjoy all the benefits of this including greater collaboration, learning and career progression.
We were also deprived of the joys of working in the CBD. Deprived of our morning coffee habit, lunch at cafes and restaurants and the after-hours entertainment such as drinks with friends or going to the theatre or the footy. 
After two years we are having to form new habits again. New habits in the way we work, live and play. COVID-19 has been a massive adjustment for all of us, particularly business which has borne the brunt of extended lockdowns and other restrictions.
It’s the same with events. We’ve missed the joy of attending concerts, shows and live sport. We’ve learned to watch the footy, cricket and the races in the comfort of our loungerooms where there’s no travel times or queues to worry about. But again, there’s been something missing. The shared experiences with family and friends and the unforgettable moments that become lifetime memories to savour.
And it stands to reason. Think about the most memorable moments of your life. A career achievement, a great holiday, the birth of a child or a wedding. Now think about how many of them happened on Zoom or Teams?
In the short time since we’ve been able to return to the office there’s already a renewed sense of energy about Melbourne. People are slowly returning, be it in their cars or by train, tram, bus or bike. Queues are once again forming at coffee shops and sushi bars and we are bumping into familiar faces and renewing acquaintances. 
This has given us not only a greater sense of social connection but it is good for business, in particular our world-class retail and hospitality sectors which have suffered so much and now have so much to gain through increased foot traffic. We should never forget that CBD stands for Central Business District and, at its heart, it’s a place to do business. People are the lifeblood of our city and the businesses that inhabit it.
Before COVID-19, Melbourne’s CBD was home to nearly 500,000 jobs, 17,000 businesses and 52,000 international students. It is the business and cultural hub of Victoria and makes up 25 per cent of Victoria’s economy and seven per cent of the national economy. All this relies on people being in the city.
I’m certain none of us are looking forward to the return of the daily commute. It will bring into sharp focus the ongoing works on our major road and rail routes, and the newly constructed bike lanes in the CBD. We need to continue to look at ways to reduce travel time and increase convenience, including opportunities for parking and public transport incentives to help encourage workers back. We must do everything we can to make the city a welcoming place.
We know most office workers won’t necessarily have to be in the office every day as we were pre-COVID-19, but we will enjoy it more when we are. We will make a greater effort to collaborate, meet face to face and be more productive with our time. Hopefully we will be more likely to meet people for lunch, go shopping on our breaks or catch up with friends for dinner after work.
As more people return we will start to feel what the new pace and tempo of our city will become. We will form new habits that will enhance our time working in the office but also working at home. Our home will feel less like our office and the office more like our home. 
Now there’s a habit we could all enjoy.

This piece was published in the Herald Sun on 11 March 2022. 



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