Companies plan to ease staff back into the office from Sept 28

Working from home remains default, so firms in no rush to have staff in office

Office workers in masks after work hours at Raffles Place on Sept 24, 2020.
Office workers in masks after work hours at Raffles Place on Sept 24, 2020.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

More people are being allowed to return to the office next Monday, but employers are not rushing to have them back.

A range of companies - from banks to start-ups - told The Straits Times that their workers will only be eased back into the office, given that work-from-home remains the default mode amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Firms are now used to telecommuting, a trend that Institute for Human Resource Professionals chief executive Mayank Parekh said is here to stay.

He cited a survey by software company EngageRocket during the circuit breaker period, in which more than 80 per cent of respondents said they saw themselves working from home more than half the time.

"Concerns over productivity and performance are diminishing, with more than 70 per cent of respondents reporting that they took the same or less time to achieve the same level of productivity as pre-Covid-19," he added.

The Government announced on Wednesday that more staff would be allowed to return to workplaces as Singapore cautiously reopens the economy amid the pandemic.

But employers have to ensure safe management measures at the workplace and have flexible working hours, as well as staggered reporting times, among other things.

Graphic designer Jerome Koh, 30, said that he has not been informed by his bosses on whether he needs to return to the office but would like to be given a choice in the matter. "I have got used to working from home, and while I miss my colleagues, there are some days I feel more productive in the quiet of my home," he said.

The nature of the work, however, is a factor in whether staying at home remains an option.

OE Manufacturing managing director James Wong said that "almost all" of his staff have returned to work, because of the need to operate heavy machinery.

Ms Jacqueline Ye, co-founder of Delegate, a firm which helps people planning events to source venues and vendors such as food caterers, said it has "adjusted to working remotely pretty easily".

 
 

Still, she hopes to bring staff back to the office to build team spirit and cultivate a sense of belonging.

"We are looking to slowly ease our team back into working from the office, starting next month," she said.

"We will stagger our teams and have only three or four people at the office at any one time."

United Overseas Bank (UOB) group human resources head Dean Tong said that about half of the bank staff have returned to work in offices and branches. UOB is "testing scenarios in which more of our people will be able to work remotely", Mr Tong said.

OCBC Bank group corporate security head Francisco John Celio said: "The bank does not have a targeted percentage ratio of how many staff should work in the office."

He added: "We will continue to take a phased approach to have more on-site staff to support the increase in economic activities safely."

 
 

DBS Bank has been moving "small pockets of employees in critical banking functions back to the office" since the first phase of Singapore's reopening kicked off, a bank spokesman said.

It expects more employees to return to the office gradually over the next few months, the spokesman added.

Currently, about 70 per cent of its local workforce work from home, down from the 80 per cent during the circuit breaker period.

Standard Chartered Bank said that teams across the institution are progressively starting to stagger work hours, among other measures. "We will not hesitate to step up the measures where necessary," it said in a statement, adding that those working in the office comprised about 25 per cent of staff.

 

Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit said members should adhere to appropriate safe management measures, while Singapore Manufacturing Federation president Douglas Foo called on everyone to proceed with caution.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2020, with the headline 'Companies plan to ease staff back into the office'. Print Edition | Subscribe