Coronavirus outbreak

Firms urged to stagger work hours, let staff work from home

People wear masks as they cross the road in Singapore's Central Business District on March 10, 2020. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Employers should adopt telecommuting, stagger work hours and reduce close contact at work, where feasible.

These recommendations by the health and manpower ministries yesterday come amid new social distancing measures announced by the Government to combat the spread of the coronavirus, and follow the World Health Organisation's declaration of the outbreak as a pandemic on Wednesday.

"Employers should implement telecommuting and video con-ferencing where possible, as well as stagger work hours, and allow employees to commute at off-peak hours," the Ministry of Health said in an advisory.

In a separate advisory, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said that special work-from-home arrangements should be made for vulnerable employees, such as those who are older, pregnant or have underlying medical conditions.

MOM noted that while there exist job roles or functions where working from home is not feasible, such as those involving front-line operations or fieldwork in construction sites, shipyards or factory plants, other arrangements could be made.

For example, it recommended that employers widen the space between individual work stations to at least 1m, and shorten meetings while limiting the number of attendees.

Workplace activities involving close and prolonged contact between participants that are not critical for business operations should also be deferred.

In suitable workplace settings such as those in the manufacturing sector, employers can consider deploying employees in shifts if such arrangements are not already in place, while extending operational hours to maintain production output, said MOM.

"Employers should consider clear separation of employees on different shifts, (by) implementing human traffic management measures and stepping up cleaning of common areas during shift changeovers," it added.

In a national address on Thursday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said additional social distancing measures, such as compulsory telecommuting, will be introduced should there be a spike in Covid-19 cases in Singapore.

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the task force combating the spread of the virus here, said yesterday that such additional measures within Singapore were needed, in addition to the extra restrictions rolled out at Singapore's borders.

From 11.59pm tomorrow, all new visitors who have been to Italy, France, Spain and Germany within the past 14 days will not be allowed entry or transit.

This is on top of previous restrictions announced for travellers coming from China, Iran and South Korea.

Mr Wong said: "We know the virus is already circulating within our own population, and we have to do more to contain or to slow down the spread of the virus within Singapore itself."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2020, with the headline Firms urged to stagger work hours, let staff work from home. Subscribe