Singapore home-based workers may return to offices in cohorts, work-related events with up to 50 people allowed

Singaporeans may soon be able to start returning to the office, but with added precautions. — TODAY pic
Singaporeans may soon be able to start returning to the office, but with added precautions. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Sept 23 — From next today, workers who have been home-based during the Covid-19 pandemic may now return to offices for up to half of their total working time, with no more than half of a company’s employees at the workplace at any point in time.

Work-related events held within the workplace premises that are business-oriented will also be allowed to resume, for up to 50 people.

These changes were announced today during a press conference by the multi-ministry task force handling Singapore’s response to Covid-19.

A statement by the Ministry of Health (MOH) today further highlighted examples of the conditions under which employees can return to the workplace.

A full-timer on a six-day work week may return to the office for up to three days a week.

A firm with 10 full-time employees currently working from home can split the staff into two teams of five, with each cohort to return to the workplace every alternate week while the other continues to work from home.

“Returning to the workplace can either be initiated by the employee and agreed upon with the employer, or directed by the employer,” said MOH.

The ministry added that with more employees returning to the workplace, employers should play their part in minimising crowding and possible congregation at common spaces, including on public transport.

They can do so by:

  • Implementing flexible workplace hours so employees can work partly at home and partly at the workplace such that they travel outside of peak periods. For instance, they can work in blocks of 10am to 4pm or 1pm to 5pm in-office hours, or return to the workplace only for meetings and work from home the rest of the time.
  • Further staggering of reporting times such that half of all employees start work at or after 10am.
  • In addition, split-team or shift arrangements must continue to be implemented, with each team restricted to one worksite where possible, and employers must ensure clear separation of employees on different teams or shifts.

“This update has been carefully considered to balance the concerns of employers regarding the impact of extended periods of working from home on productivity and workplace relations while creating safe workplaces for employees,” said MOH.

“This will also support employees who face particular difficulty working from home.”

Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force, called on employers to implement these flexible work arrangements for employees returning to work

“In particular, we would like employers to put in place arrangements for the employees to be able to work, partly at home and partly at the workplace, so it doesn’t have to be such a binary arrangement,” he said.

Work-related workplace events may resume

MOH added that work-related events within the workplace that are business-oriented will be allowed to resume for up to 50 people, or fewer depending on the venue’s capacity based on safe management principles.

These events include conferences, seminars, corporate retreats, annual general meetings and extraordinary general meetings.

However, larger-scale social gatherings at the workplace such as parties, celebrations and team bonding activities will not be permitted. 

During permissible events, there should be strict adherence to safe management measures, with at least 1m safe distancing between each employee, for example.

“We will consider allowing the resumption of work-related events at external venues at a later date,” said MOH.

The ministry will also update the safe management measures for workplaces in certain areas such as rules for staff having their meals at staff canteens, taking reference from prevailing national guidelines.

“Everyone needs to take the safe management measures seriously, be it at workplaces or in a community and continue to comply and uphold these measures,” said Wong.

“If all goes well, if we can continue to maintain this level of compliance and we can continue to control the infection we will be able to continue with this path of resuming and opening up our economy and our society, steadily.”

Wong also urged more residents to be part of the TraceTogether programme.

They can do so by downloading the TraceTogether application on their phones, or by collecting the TraceTogether token.

“The more people there are participating (in the programme), then the greater our confidence in opening up and resuming more activities,” he said. — TODAY

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