Companies complying with social distancing guidelines

Measures to reduce interaction in place, but some firms face practical challenges

Office workers practising social distancing in the lift at Maybank Tower, on March 20, 2020. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

All kinds of companies, from factories to banks, have implemented safe distancing measures as recommended by the Government to stop the spread of Covid-19, though some continue to face challenges.

A check with 10 firms yesterday revealed that most have complied with the Ministry of Health's guidelines on what employers should do to keep workers safe from the coronavirus outbreak.

The ministry had strongly urged employers to facilitate telecommuting and teleconferencing to reduce close physical interactions among workers.

Staggered working hours, staying at least 1m away from colleagues and scaling down on critical work events are recommended for employees who cannot work from home.

But for some companies, the recommendations are not easy to implement.

OE Manufacturing managing director James Wong said his company has flexible work hours and staff have been advised to maintain a distance from one another during lunch and tea breaks.

Seats in office meeting rooms have also been spaced out, though it is not practical to have the same arrangement in the factory, he added. "When we need to do product assembly... it is not practical to keep a distance from colleagues. They need to work in close proximity to ensure safety."

Mr Ali Y. Aladdin, co-founder of medtech start-up KroniKare, said only one person in the office of 12 - five of whom are working remotely - answers the office phone. The phone is cleaned thoroughly if another person needs to use it, he added.

A Standard Chartered Bank spokesman said the bank has encouraged employees to hold face-to-face meetings only if necessary, and to keep the meetings short and limited to 10 attendees.

The bank's management has also encouraged teams to keep to staggered work times to avoid the usual peak hours, as well as crowded commutes and lifts.

CIMB Bank chief executive Victor Lee said the bank has bought 200 laptops and provided staff with virtual private network access so that they can work from home. "We also put in place social distancing seating where we leave an empty desk between staff, and we discourage sharing of lift shafts," he added.

A spokesman for Maybank Singapore said: "Meetings are now conducted online as far as possible, and group training and events are deferred until further notice."

Staggered working hours have also been introduced at the bank, the spokesman added.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore had sent instructions to financial institutions on Monday, asking them to adopt safe distancing measures at their offices and branches.

A spokesman for insurer Tokio Marine said employees who wish to avoid travelling during peak hours can discuss with their managers about staggering their start and end times.

Fellow insurer Prudential Singapore is cleaning its desks and common areas more frequently and employees have been told to maintain a distance of 1m from one another, said its corporate affairs head Tan Ping Ping.

She added that a townhall meeting held recently had a cap of 50 attendees, who were kept 1m away from one another. The session was also streamed digitally.

Mr Huang Huanmin, chief of staff at ShopBack, said the start-up has discontinued office gatherings, placed markers on all meeting room tables to discourage large group meetings, and is reminding employees to sit 1m apart.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2020, with the headline Companies complying with social distancing guidelines. Subscribe