The return of federal public servants to offices in September signalled hope for Canberra's struggling hospitality sector.
But local cafe owners say they are yet to see the effects, and that business was growing only marginally.
Nearly seven months after telling staff to work remotely to avoid coronavirus infections, the federal bureaucracy is bringing public servants back in greater numbers to office buildings.
The return gained more urgency when the public service commission, overseeing the APS workforce, last month directed employers to prepare for all employees to come back to offices.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison voiced his support, describing the transition to office buildings as a boon for businesses struggling in the COVID-19 recession.
"It's time to get our CBDs humming again and I think the Commonwealth public service taking the lead in that regard is a good thing," he said in a September 29 press conference.
About 72 per cent of public servants are either working in the office exclusively or dividing their hours between their regular workplaces and home.
For Interlude Espresso Bar owner, Trent Esmerian, it's meant a slight bump in revenue but he hoped it would grow larger in the coming weeks.
"Things are still extremely dire," Mr Esmerian said.
The COVID-19 restrictions, introduced back in late March, meant Mr Esmerian had to close down his Civic cafe for two months. When it was time to reopen, customers were few.
"We were barely doing 10 per cent previous revenue," Mr Esmerian said.
"Only in the last couple of weeks have we finally exceeded that, and we've jumped up to roughly 20 per cent previous revenue.
"If we reach 50 per cent previous revenue, that's going to be a miracle. I don't even know if the shop can ever do that again."
Mr Esmerian hoped the minimal uptick was due to a staggered return to the office and the future would hold more uplifting results.
"I'm hoping that I haven't seen the full effect of the office workers coming back because if 25 per cent is my new normal then that's not good for me," Mr Esmerian said.
Over in Brindabella Business Park, where foot traffic was low apart from government office workers, Bread and Butter cafe was doing it just as tough.
The cafe's manager, Salina Silwal Bohara, said it was once busy enough for seven staff, many of them ineligible for JobKeeper as international students. Now only two remained.
"At one point, we were just not even making anything but we still stayed open," Ms Silwal Bohara said.
The last few weeks have been a slight reprieve, Ms Silwal Bohara said. With the trickle of workers into the office, the coffee machine had been fired up and lunch was back on the menu.
"Now from last week and this week, we can see there's a lot of people staying back [at the office], and then we have that afternoon rush as well," Ms Silwal Bohara said.
"It feels like we're almost back to normal."
Tony, who manages four cafes in government buildings, was less hopeful.
With whole buildings emptied for nearly six months, he said it was government support that kept the cafes afloat. But he's not convinced business will return any time soon.
"If the federal government didn't put out JobKeeper, there is no way, absolutely no way, we would have survived," Tony said.
"Going forward, I think, is the biggest concern now because honestly, I don't believe it's going to be the same ever again."
Business has increased slightly in the weeks after the APS was directed to return, but it hasn't been enough to cover the bills if government support was to drop.
"[Business has increased] slightly, yes, but not to [viable] levels if we have to pay for rent and for wages," he said.
"I just wait for the inevitable."
The Canberra Business Chamber's chief executive, Graham Catt, welcomed the APS's return to offices, saying demand was what was missing so far.
"What businesses are really desperate for is actual demand for their goods and services," Mr Catt said.
"That's what's ultimately going to get businesses working again and get the economy firing again."
The trickle of returning workers hasn't solved the problem for many of Canberra's local businesses, but with the world's 'new normal' preventing much change on that front, it might be their only hope for now.