Coronavirus: Singapore

Staggered work hours already the norm at some companies

Past year has made employers more accepting of arrangement

Ultimately, employers are concerned about how to allow flexibility while maintaining company cohesion. Staggered work hours, in addition to work-from-home arrangements and split teams, give companies more tools to meet these aims. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
Ultimately, employers are concerned about how to allow flexibility while maintaining company cohesion. Staggered work hours, in addition to work-from-home arrangements and split teams, give companies more tools to meet these aims. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

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 at workplaces ease today.

The Straits Times spoke to about 10 employers ahead of the eased restrictions that will allow up to 75 per cent of workers to return to the 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 having to be in a particular place for a mandated length of time.

"There is 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 joint managing partner Stefanie Yuen Thio.

As Covid-19 has not been eradicated, she is also mindful that her employees may want to avoid the morning and evening peak-hour commutes, and 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. Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said that staggering commuter traffic throughout the day would be better use of the public transport network.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah said that 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 that The Straits Times spoke to said staggered hours have become a matter of course.

Public relations firm AKA Asia is developing a booking system for 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. Staff who start at 8.30am end their shift between 4.30pm and 5pm, while those who start at 10.30am leave between 6.30pm and 7pm.

Mr Lars Voedisch, managing director of 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 so their productivity will not be disrupted.

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

Ms Yuen Thio said: "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."

AVOIDING DIVISIONS

  • 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2021, with the headline 'Staggered work hours already the norm at some companies'. Subscribe