Up to 75% of staff can return to office from April 5; working from home no longer default mode

Split-team arrangements are also no longer mandatory, though companies may continue to adopt such arrangements for business continuity purposes if they wish to.
Split-team arrangements are also no longer mandatory, though companies may continue to adopt such arrangements for business continuity purposes if they wish to. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - More employees who are currently working from home will be able to return to the workplace from April 5, as workplaces shift from working from home as the default to a more flexible way of working, Education Minister Lawrence Wong announced on Wednesday (March 24).

Up to 75 per cent of staff can return to the workplace at any one time, up from the current 50 per cent, said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, at a virtual press conference.

The current restrictions requiring employees to work from home for at least half their working time will also be lifted, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a press statement.

Split-team arrangements are also no longer mandatory, though companies may continue to adopt such arrangements for business continuity purposes if they wish to. Restrictions on cross-deployment across workplaces remain in place, MOH added.

Mr Wong said: "We will strongly encourage employers to still stagger the start times and implement flexible working hours, and of course, employers must continue to implement all prevailing safe management measures."

Social and recreational gatherings at the workplace, such as team bonding events organised by employers, will be allowed, but must be limited to no more than eight people, said MOH.

MOM’s updated workplace requirements 

In its updated requirements for safe management measures at the workplace, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said that employers are encouraged to stagger the start times for all employees such that at least half of them arrive at the workplace at or after 10am, as far as possible. 

Companies should also continue to conduct virtual meetings as far as possible, but if physical meetings are needed, they can be scheduled after 10am. 

“These measures would enable more employees to avoid peak-hour travel, especially if employees require the use of public transport,” said the MOM advisory.

Timings of lunch and other breaks should also be staggered accordingly.

Employers are also encouraged to support as many employees in working from home as possible, which will help limit the number of employees exposed to possible infection at the workplace at any point in time.

They are also asked to pay special attention to vulnerable employees, such as those aged 60 and above or who have medical conditions, to reduce their exposure to infection risk.

This includes allowing them to work from home or travelling to and from work at off-peak timings. 

Flexible workplace hours should also be allowed for workers who can work from home but who are returning to the workplace, so as to reduce the duration spent in the workplace.

For instance, a proportion of workers can work in their workplaces from 10am to 4pm, and work from home for their remaining work hours.

Their companies can also allow them to work from home in the morning, and only return to the workplace in the afternoon or only for meetings.

All work-related events not organised primarily for social interaction - such as conferences, corporate retreats and Annual General Meetings - must adhere to prevailing workplace safe management measures, including capping the number of people at each event to 50.

The tripartite partners, comprising the Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress and Singapore National Employers Federation, urged companies to adhere to necessary safe distancing and capacity limits in organising work-related events.

"Due to the higher risk of transmission when people are unmasked, meals should not be the main feature of the event, and companies should avoid holding events over mealtimes as far as possible," said MOH.

Employers must also continue to observe safe management measures such as cleaning common spaces regularly, ensuring that safe distancing is in place and that masks are worn at all times.

MOH said that enforcement action will be taken against employers who fail to comply with the safe management measures, and that will include the possibility of workplace closures.

Employers also have to be prepared that the situation is a dynamic one, it said.

"If there is increased risk of Covid-19 resurgence, we will have to adjust our posture and more stringent measures at workplaces will have to be reintroduced."

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