Staggered work hours already the norm at some companies in Singapore

While few companies have fixed staggered hours for their employees, most said it has become a matter of course. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Staggered hours have been the norm at some firms here, as companies prepare to bring more employees back to the office when Covid-19 regulations on workplaces ease on Monday (April 5).

The Straits Times spoke to about 10 employers ahead of the eased restrictions that allow up to 75 per cent of workers to return to office. They said that the past year has made them more accepting of office hours being tailored to individual needs.

Their staff are now able to operate without the need for them to be in a particular place for a mandated length of time.

"There is a greater ease in picking up your work from wherever you are and less of a need to be on-site. We no longer need all staff to report to work at the same set time," said TSMP Law Corporation joint managing partner Stefanie Yuen Thio.

With Covid-19 not yet eradicated, she is also mindful that her employees may want to avoid the usual morning and evening peak-hour commutes, and she encourages them to start work after 10am or even after lunch.

"This will allow everyone to organise their personal and family arrangements as they need to."

Covid-19 brought about staggered hours, something the authorities had tried to push for in working patterns. Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said that more spread out commuter traffic throughout the day will better utilise the public transport network.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah also said more flexible work arrangements could lead to heartland areas having more places for people to work from, childcare options and green spaces for people to get fresh air.

While few companies have fixed staggered hours for their employees, most said it has become a matter of course.

Public relations firm AKA Asia, for instance, is developing a booking system for its staff to decide how long and when they want to work from the office.

Technology solutions start-up Affinidi Group's chief executive Glenn Gore also said there are no fixed slots for his staff.

"Colleagues are planning and staggering their own schedules, and we noticed that teams are avoiding peak travel hours as best they can."

There are companies with stricter, more defined staggered hours, however.

Immigration consultancy Cayman Group Holdings has two starting times. Those starting at 8.30am will end their shift between 4.30pm and 5pm; and those who start at 10.30am will leave between 6.30pm and 7pm.

Mr Lars Voedisch, managing director at public relations and social media consultancy PRecious Communications, said that while some of his employees go into the office for half a day, most prefer to stay for a full day to not disrupt their productivity.

Ultimately, employers are concerned about flexibility while maintaining company cohesion. Staggered work hours, in addition to work from home arrangements and split teams, give companies more tools to make sure these aims are met.

Ms Yuen Thio added: "Split teams necessarily mean that the paths of the different teams do not cross. Over an extended period, this creates divisions among co-workers.

"Staggering the hours allows us to manage safe distancing not only in the office but also in the daily commute."


Returning to workplaces safely

Capacity limits

• No more than 75 per cent of employees who are able to work from home should be at the workplace at any point.

• Employers to support as many employees to work from home as possible.

• No limit on the proportion of an employee's working time that can be spent at the workplace.

• Split-team arrangements will no longer be mandatory.

Meetings

• Meetings to be conducted virtually as far as possible.

• Schedule physical meetings after 10am to avoid peak-hour travel.

• Stagger start work times such that at least half of the employees arrive at or after 10am.

No cross-deployment

• No employee should work at more than one work site, except for firms or industries where this is critical for operations.

• If cross-deployment cannot be avoided, additional safeguards must be taken to minimise the risk of cross-infection.

Social gatherings

• All social and recreational gatherings such as lunches and team-bonding activities within or outside the workplace must adhere to the limit of eight people.

• All work-related events should not have meals as their main feature.

• Employers should avoid holding events at mealtimes.

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