Some S'pore firms ask all staff to work from home amid spike in Covid-19 community cases

No noticeable drop in crowds was observed on public transport on May 5, 2021. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Some firms are asking all employees who are able to do so to work from home as a precautionary measure amid a spike in Covid-19 community cases here.

On Tuesday (May 4), the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 reduced the cap on employees in the workplace to 50 per cent of those able to work from home from May 8 to May 30, down from the current 75 per cent.

The updated guidance comes four days after it told firms last Friday to allow workers to work from home as far as possible.

Since Monday, working from home has become the default arrangement for employees of Senoko Energy who are able to telecommute, and all of them are now doing so, said Ms Joey Kwek, the firm's senior vice-president of human resources and corporate services.

About a third of Senoko's more than 340 employees can telecommute, while the rest are essential workers who are required to work on-site. Before this, those who can work from home had returned to the office for about three days a week.

Changi Airport Group (CAG), which had initially planned to bring staff back to the office for two days a week from this month, has put on hold this requirement till the end of the month, said a CAG spokesman. Instead, staff will be working from home where possible. Last month, staff had been returning to the office on one fixed day per week.

TSMP Law Corporation, which has about 140 employees, has also told them to work from home till May 14 at least unless it is absolutely essential to be in the office, said joint managing partner Stefanie Yuen Thio.

Depending on the situation, more may be allowed to return to the office after May 14, subject to the 50 per cent capacity limit, she added.

Singtel's employees have been working from home on alternate weeks from this month, said group chief human resources officer Aileen Tan. Previously, the arrangement was for employees to telecommute for a week each month.

UOB group human resources head Dean Tong said the bank has halted plans for more employees to return to the office in the light of the new rules. As a default, all employees who can do so will work from home for now, he said.

Similarly, integrated communications agency AKA Asia has also advised employees to work from home as much as possible, unless there is a pressing need to return to the office, said director of talent operations Alicia Thong.

Insurance firm Great Eastern and local robotics technology firm PBA Robotics also said it will follow the latest guidelines to ensure that no more than 50 per cent of those who can work from home return to the office at any one time.

In response to queries, the Public Service Division said it will continue to align its guidelines for public agencies' workplace arrangements with the national guidelines.

No noticeable drop in crowds was observed on public transport and in Raffles Place on Wednesday when The Straits Times was there around lunchtime.

But food and beverage outlets in the Central Business District said they have seen a drop in sales this week, and are bracing themselves for a further slump in business in the coming weeks as more workers remain at home from May 8.

Mr Adrien Desbaillets, the managing director of SaladStop, said Wednesday's lunch sales had dropped 20 per cent from the previous week's.

While the salad chain understands and supports the measures to bring the Covid-19 situation under control, operators in the CBD which have struggled over the past 12 months will be badly affected, he said.

"We were just starting to ramp up and the traffic was starting to come back to office areas, but this will be a step backwards. Larger multinational corporations will be hesitant in making more concrete plans to send their teams back to the office," he said.

Mr Leon Tan, co-founder of Laut, a bar in Telok Ayer, is hoping for other measures to help F&B operators. "F&B margins are low and our biggest fixed costs would be rental and manpower. Slow business means we can't keep up with these fixed costs," he said.

How workplace guidelines have changed since the circuit breaker

April 7, 2020

All workplaces to close, except for those providing essential services or are considered to be in key economic sectors.

Working from home mandatory for all, with all other business activities that cannot be conducted by working from home suspended.

June 2, 2020

Working from home remains the default mode for all companies.

Employees working from home must continue to do so. They can go to the office only when there is no alternative, such as needing specialised equipment that cannot be accessed from home.

Sept 28, 2020

More employees allowed to return to office. But they must work from home for at least half their working hours, and no more than 50 per cent of those able to work from home should be at the workplace at any time.

Shift or split team operations implemented where possible. Employees in different teams cannot mix.

April 5, 2021

Working from home no longer the default. Up to 75 per cent of staff can return to the workplace at any one time, up from 50 per cent.

Restrictions requiring employees to work from home for at least half their working time also lifted.

Split-team arrangements no longer mandatory, but restrictions on cross-deployment across workplaces remain. Social gatherings in groups of up to eight allowed.

April 30, 2021
Employers urged to allow staff to work from home as far as possible.

May 8, 2021
No more than half of employees able to work from home should return to the workplace at any one time from May 8 till May 30.

Social gatherings at workplace should be avoided.

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