Two days after a lockdown last year, a sommelier in Brisbane knew something had to change.

Important points:

  • Experts say the Brisbane CBD is on the verge of a “paradigm shift” in the workplace
  • Only 60 percent of Brisbane’s workers are back in the city
  • Companies that rely on office worker traffic are asking people to remember where they used to be

With international and domestic travelers largely excluded and with Brisbane’s CBD staff absent, 35-year-old Federico Dordoni has come up with a plan to conduct wine tastings online.

Months later, he says no innovation has replaced the once bustling city center before the pandemic.

Mr Dordoni says his Grape Therapy winery on Adelaide Street has been downsizing from six to four days, with Wednesday being the next.

“Thursday, Friday were the biggest days … when we used to have the workers a little earlier because they finished early,” he said.

“We [now] have less than 50 percent of the usual trade. “

The winery turned to online tasting during last year’s COVID-19 lockdown. (

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Organizational experts say workplaces were equally in the dark about how to keep functioning inside and outside of locks.

Professor Frederik Anseel of the University of New South Wales called it an “invasive crisis” that has brought Brisbane’s CBD and the rest of the world to the brink of a “paradigm shift” in the workplace.

With the option for more autonomy and flexibility in the workplace, Professor Anseel said how much freedom employers give and workers take will be an ongoing “future struggle” – one that affects many aspects of life.

Empty Queen Street Mall in Brisbane CBD Queen Street Mall in Brisbane may never be as busy as it used to be during the week. (

ABC News: Curtis Rodda

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In a monthly survey of office owners today, the Property Council of Australia found that only 60 percent of Brisbane workers are back in the city – a drop in numbers that has not been seen since that time last year.

Jen Williams of the council said the Brisbane offices had been operating at about 70 percent of pre-COVID-19 levels for a year, until the last shutdown in southeast Queensland.

Last month, 11 local counties were locked down in multiple school communities following an outbreak of the contagious Delta Tribe that spanned eight days.

Man wearing a mask in King George Square in Brisbane during the lockdown. Persistent masking requirements are cited as one of the reasons people prefer to work from home. (

ABC News: Chris Gillette

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Ms. Williams said until recently, “Brisbane has recovered very quickly from previous bans.”

She said mandatory home stays and permanent restrictions like wearing masks have deterred many from the office as workers adapt and grow with remote working.

“This is absolutely a direct result of people adopting the flexibility to spend more time from home or in the suburbs rather than coming to the office every day,” she said.

“It was pretty much not an option”

Kristie May said “if it weren’t for COVID,” she wouldn’t have had the flexibility she now enjoys to work for an IT company in the Brisbane CBD.

“[The pandemic] just opened up the whole possibility of working from home, “she said.

Kristie May works at home Kristie May has developed more confidence in her team by working from home. (

Delivered: Kristie May

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Ms. May, 38, lives on the north side of Brisbane and said the pandemic has accelerated opportunities to have a family and keep up with her career.

“I got pregnant in 2019 just before COVID appeared,” she said.

“I [previously] Perhaps should have stopped working eight weeks before the birth.

Kristie May hugs her baby Work from home day starts with a hug with your baby. (

Delivered: Kristie May

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“But I could work from home.”

Now she works two days from a distance and three days in the city.

It wasn’t always this way – she wasn’t offered remote arrangements prior to the pandemic and she had previously lost a job for the same reason when she moved from Canberra to Brisbane in 2016.

“My mother got sick and I had to return to Queensland to take care of her.

“I asked my workplace at the time if I could work from home and they basically said they couldn’t have flexibility.”

Ms. May believes that it would be different now.

Change could affect the Olympics

The Property Council has started monitoring peak and low days, showing that many Brisbane workers are opting for similar arrangements.

Last month, just over 60 percent of the pre-pandemic workforce was in the city on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and less than half showed up on Monday and Friday.

“People are choosing to be more flexible,” said Ms. Williams.

Brisbane's Adelaide Street during a COVID lockdown Many CBD companies are expected to struggle with the workers staying away. (

ABC News: Jim Malo

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“But what we found out is that … most people want to be in town for at least a while.”

Ms. May said, like many employees, she wouldn’t consider going all the way away as she still enjoyed “seeing people face to face” and the local coffee and breakfast on the way to the hotel Enjoy office.

“Not just about our jobs,” she said.

Kristie May at Brisbane Central Station Kristie May still enjoys going to the office some days. (

Delivered: Kristie May

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Ms. Williams said changing workers’ habits could even affect something as big as the 2032 Brisbane Olympics.

“After the pandemic, we know there will be increased interest in Queensland, and Brisbane in particular,” she said.

“The city center is the place where people gather, ideas arise and [it is] Center of our social and cultural institutions.

“There have been generations of investments in our city that we can’t just turn our backs on.”

Ms. Williams said efforts need to be made to ensure that the CBD “remains on a growth path”.

The Council launched a “Fridays in The City” campaign starting May this year, offering workers numerous activities, events and incentives towards the end of the week.

While it led to a 12 percent increase in foot traffic and a $ 5 million increase in retail sales, Ms. Williams said the Delta variant dissolved the prospect of similar initiatives.

“The uncertainty that comes with it [the Delta variant] makes it difficult to run a campaign like Fridays in The City, which was a six-week consecutive campaign, “she said.

The solution was now to look for vaccines that could include vaccination centers in the city center or the use of vaccination cards.

“Masks in the workplace, border closings, the moving of target posts for vaccination targets and the risk of snap locks have all led to an increase …[in] work from home, “Ms. Williams told ABC.

“We don’t get out until we’ve vaccinated a really high percentage of the population.”

“A new working model”

Annabelle Neall, a lecturer in organizational psychology at the University of Queensland, said the long-term changes in the workplace caused by the pandemic would continue for some time.

“The effects of the pandemic will continue well beyond once we have met our vaccination rates and goals and reopened our borders,” said Dr. Neall.

Read more about the spread of COVID-19 in Australia:

Both Dr. Neall and Professor Anseel spoke of a paradigm shift in work culture – where employees have more flexibility.

Professor Anseel said the workplace is moving away from “monitoring and even controlling” employees towards individual agreements in which employees have “autonomy”.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to search, up and down arrows to volume.RegardDuration: 3 minutes 59 seconds3m 59sPlay video.  Duration: 3 minutes 59 seconds What are the COVID-19 variants Delta and Delta Plus?

Ms. Williams called for “leadership” within organizations to create a space in which employees “actively choose to be part of it”.

Dr. Neall said companies need to highlight the social and collaborative benefits of personal workplaces, with a renewed focus on the mental and physical health of employees.

“So [implementing] physical barriers to the potential for spread among employees, increased cleaning practices, “she said.

“But make sure that they are psychologically safe, that there is security to know what will happen if we go back into another lockdown – what the transitional arrangements look like.”

Remember where you used to “hang around”

Mr Dordoni said the “hum” of a Friday night in Brisbane was “not there”.

“We’re not getting this deal because everyone wants to work from home,” he said.

Mr Dordoni urged workers to “remember the companies” [where] you always hung out. “

“Because we won’t be there long if there is no support.”