Weekday crowds return to CBD eateries as workplace Covid-19 restrictions ease

Diners at Market Street Interim Hawker Centre on Jan 3, 2022. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
Diners at Market Street Interim Hawker Centre on Jan 3, 2022. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
Diners entering Market Street Interim Hawker Centre on Jan 3, 2022. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - The lunchtime queue is back at the Central Business District on Monday (Jan 3) as employees streamed into offices on the first working day after the easing of workplace restrictions.

Mr Jeremy Foo, founder of public relations agency Elliot and Co, told The Straits Times: "The crowds were smaller than pre-Covid-19 levels, but being so used to empty lunch venues, there seems to be less socially distanced walking space compared to last year."

Ten staff, or 50 per cent of the company, returned to the office in Cecil Street on Monday, he said, adding that those who did reported larger-than-usual crowds on public transport.

From Jan 1 this year, 50 per cent of those who can work from home are allowed to return to the office if they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 within the past 180 days.

Unvaccinated workers, who are able to return to the workplace from Jan 1 to 14 if they have a negative pre-event test (PET) result, will not be able to do so from Jan 15.

Working from home had been the default since September last year.

Mr Foo said most of those who returned on Monday were quite happy to do so as they missed seeing their colleagues physically, even though channels such as Zoom have made work from home a smooth experience.

"In the communications industry where collaborating is a big part of our work, nothing beats the ability to be physically connected in a workplace, to feel the camaraderie which comes from being beside each other in a physical space," he added.

Still, Mr Foo said he does not believe the company will go back to a full work-in-office model as most employees seem to prefer a hybrid working system.

Mr Roger Olofsson, managing director of Olofsson and Company, also welcomed back half his staff to the office at Singapore Land Tower in Raffles Place on Monday.

He observed more people in the area too.

"Lunch places - like cafes, for example - were busier, and there were a bit more people in general walking around the CBD," he said.

Office workers at Raffles Place on Jan 3, 2022. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Five people from the company, which provides consultancy to tech start-ups, returned to the office on Monday and the rest will be taking turns to do so across this week.

They will then provide feedback to see what sort of arrangements they prefer moving forward.

Mr Olofsson said the company is likely to retain a flexible working system, as there are aspects of the job that can be done remotely such as research. There are, however, other areas that thrive on interaction.

He said: "(In) our work - we share information, ideas and approaches... you lose some of the spontaneous sharing of information when you work remotely.

"Meeting clients over coffee will become more convenient now that more people are working in the area."

However, some companies in the CBD which ST spoke to say they are holding off returning to the office for now due to concerns over Covid-19.

Mr Edwin Yeo, general manager of integrated communications firm SPRG Singapore, said the company plans to bring its staff back in after Chinese New Year, which falls on Feb 1 this year.

He will be keeping tabs on the situation following the easing as he is worried about the risk of Covid-19 infection to his staff.

Mr Yeo said: "I'm still a little concerned about public transport, as most of my staff take it to work.

"So I decided to monitor the situation for a month before making a decision to have staff return to the office."

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