Youngest workers are preferring the idea of working from home as a permanent option and the trend has created the next big challenge for employers and landlords alike: how to make CBD offices attractive to younger workers if not all the time, at least some of the time.

Social psychologist and head of Customer and Digital, Investment Management for LendLease, Natalie Slessor is among those looking at how to solve what has been defined as one of the greatest problems facing commercial property stakeholders and those at the pointy ends of corporations.

Together with employee experience experts Leesman, the LendLease team led by Ms Slessor researched where workplaces were heading during 2022 and found that among issues of greatest concern was the reluctance of sub-25-year-olds – our youngest workers - to attend offices at all. This was presenting substantial risk to business as “those who arguably would benefit the most from quickly assimilating the organisational process and culture were not the least likely to willingly do that in-person” the findings stated.

Any return to office strategies going forward therefore must specifically target this demographic, Ms Slessor said. “We need to support [this demographic] by building networks to foster belonging and build the muscle memory of what it is to work from the office versus what it is to work from home.”

The joint LendLease Leesman study found employees who had been with companies less than six months were working from home the most, while those employed for 12 years or more were doing so the least.

“This is the potential challenge,” Ms Slessor said, “as those who require the workplace the most, with its benefits of social interaction, tacit knowledge sharing and learning from others, are those that are currently working from home only.”

Bringing it back

This meant that creating a sense of place was just as important a part of drawing workers back to CBD offices as was the more-often discussed factor of flexible working conditions.

“It’s not that young people are not wanting to leave their homes,” Ms Slessor said. “We know they are still going out. So it made us wonder if we could be part of the reason they leave their homes.”

As a result, LendLease staged several events in and around Sydney’s Barangaroo precinct this year to encourage employees back to not only the office but the CBD, kicking off with the ELK Edge of Chaos Exhibition in March.

Billed as Sydney’s first hybrid art and NFT exhibit, the Edge of Chaos attracted large crowds and succeeded as “an effective return-to-office push that appealed to younger employees” Ms Slessor said.

This was followed with the Barangaroo Artisan Market in May. The market was a collaboration between International Towers, the City of Sydney, The Streets of Barangaroo and Infrastructure NSW and deemed a huge success with the 40-plus stalls of curated artisanal ware including ceramics, prints, homewares, jewellery and food drawing thousands of visitors.

The current event is an interactive cabaret which will run through September and potentially beyond.

“This is not about simply about filling our offices either,” Ms Slessor said. “These events are also to inspire the revitalisation of the CBD and helping businesses thrive again.” 

Where to now?

While the jury is still out on whether the events lead to the end goal of drawing the youngest workers back to offices for two to three days a week, the strategy looks to be heading in the right direction. “This [the events] have definitely been bringing people in,” Ms Slessor said. “Whether it’s sticky or not - we’ll needs a few more events and installations to find out. 

“But we have put Barangaroo [via these events] back into the consciousness of those people we are aiming to attract.

“LendLease has always been passionate about placemaking and making our cities vibrant…. and covid has had us double down on creating variety in what we might do and create in a precinct and who our customer is in the future.

“This has been over-said but we very much understand we have to earn the commute as it may have been before covid.”