Coronavirus restrictions lifted as Sydney CBD staff return to work

“I definitely noticed that there are more people today. I’m glad they’re back,” Monica Tyburczy of Hester’s told Wynyard.Credit:James Brickwood

Another change in people’s behavior that she welcomed: No one really wants to talk about COVID-19 anymore. “It’s like it never happened,” she said.

But around the corner from Martin Place, Renee Baltov’s Barberhood was still struggling to keep staff busy. A few weeks ago, Ms Baltov told the government’s Sydney CBD Summit that her business had been “decimated” by two years of COVID restrictions; if Monday’s foot traffic was anything to go by, that won’t change any time soon.

Manager Nicole Bou-Samra said bookings were actually down this week, rather than recovering. “Many of our customers have told us about [how] they didn’t want to go back to work until the masks were gone,” she said. “Now the masks are gone, they’re still not there.”

Barber Elvis Jones, from Barberhood to Martin Place, where bookings are down this week despite the proclaimed return to the CBD.

Barber Elvis Jones, from Barberhood to Martin Place, where bookings are down this week despite the proclaimed return to the CBD.Credit:James Brickwood

Matt Beattie, who works in the city at student accommodation provider Scape, said his core team had been back in the office since the start of the year “but as of today everything is in flames and everyone world is inside”.

Mr Beattie noticed more people, fewer seats and fewer masks on his train from Bondi Junction on Monday morning. And the office fruit bowl – a much-missed victim of the pandemic – had also made its triumphant return.

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“Overall, I think everyone’s pretty happy to be back,” says CBD office worker Matt Beattie.Credit:James Brickwood

A few colleagues, particularly those with children, wanted to retain long-term flexibility in their work patterns, “but generally speaking I think everyone is pretty happy to be back,” said Mr Beattie.

Ben Hamer, who leads the ‘future of work’ program at PwC, said top companies use social events, company conferences or one-on-one meetings to reconnect people with colleagues, rather than imposing days at the office or trying to lure employees back with tricks and treats.

“While no one is turning away from things like free yoga classes and live music, they’re not really going to change long-term behavior,” he said.

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For the city’s street homeless, the return of office workers cannot come soon enough. But even then, fewer and fewer people are carrying cash these days thanks to the pandemic.

Michael, who sat on the corner of Pitt and Hunter streets on Monday and didn’t want his last name published, said it now takes him all day to collect the $30 or $50 he once would have won at 10 a.m.

“Even if there are more people, I don’t earn much,” he said. “[But] they buy you a lot of food.

with Julie Power

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