Coronavirus: Workplace

Caution urged even as more can return to workplace

Employers should continue with flexible arrangements, virtual meetings, say experts

Employers in Singapore will shift to a "more flexible and hybrid way of working" from next month, as the country takes further steps to ease some Covid-19 measures, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong at a press conference yesterday.

From April 5, more employees who are presently working from home can go back to the workplace. Up to 75 per cent of those who can work from home will be allowed to return to their workplace at any one time, up from the current 50 per cent.

Split teams will no longer be mandated, but employers will still be strongly encouraged to stagger their start times and implement flexible working hours, he added.

The updated guidelines come after a review of safe management measures at workplaces by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF). The review was meant to allow greater flexibility for businesses and employees while limiting the risks of Covid-19 transmission.

NTUC deputy secretary-general Cham Hui Fong said yesterday that NTUC will work with companies to ensure the transition to the new working arrangements is properly planned and communicated to employees.

"There must be reasonable time for adjustment to resume operations smoothly and safely," she added in a statement.

Mr Sim Gim Guan, executive director of SNEF, said the health and safety of employees should remain a priority for employers even though work from home was no longer the default.

"At the same time, employers would be able to introduce innovative work arrangements that aligned business requirements with employees' needs.

"This would enable employers to remain competitive and sustain the implementation of flexible work arrangements in the post-Covid-19 economy," he said.

Under the guidelines updated yesterday, employers must, among other things, ensure that no more than 75 per cent of employees who are able to work from home are at the workplace at any point in time. This is because the risk of transmission is still present.

There will be no limit on the proportion of an individual employee's working hours that can be spent at the workplace. Employers are encouraged to support as many employees in working from home as possible.

All social and recreational gatherings, such as farewell lunches and team bonding activities within or outside the workplace must adhere to the prevailing gathering size limit of eight persons, said the MOM advisory.

With more employees back in the office, employers are encouraged to stagger the start times for all employees such that at least half of them arrive at the workplace at or after 10am, as far as possible.

Companies should also continue to conduct virtual meetings as far as possible, but if physical meetings are needed, they can be scheduled after 10am.

"These measures would enable more employees to avoid peak-hour travel, especially if employees require the use of public transport," said the advisory.

A Ministry of Health (MOH) statement yesterday said the tripartite partners urged companies to adhere to necessary safe distancing and capacity limits in organising work-related events.

"Due to the higher risk of transmission when people are unmasked, meals should not be the main feature of the event and companies should avoid holding events over mealtimes as far as possible," said MOH.

Enforcement actions will be taken against employers who fail to comply with the safe management measures and that will include the possibility of workplace closures.

"Employers also have to be prepared that the situation is a dynamic one. If there is increased risk of Covid-19 resurgence, we will have to adjust our posture and more stringent measures at workplaces will have to be re-introduced," added MOH.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2021, with the headline Caution urged even as more can return to workplace. Subscribe