Up to 75 per cent of staff allowed back at Singapore workplaces from April 5, working from home no longer default arrangement

Up to 75 per cent of the employees who are presently able to work from home would be able to work from their offices at any one time, up from the current 50 per cent limit. — TODAY pic
Up to 75 per cent of the employees who are presently able to work from home would be able to work from their offices at any one time, up from the current 50 per cent limit. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, March 24 — More employees will be allowed back at their workplaces from April 5, as the Government shifts from treating work-from-home arrangements as a default to allowing a more flexible and hybrid way of working. 

Up to 75 per cent of the employees who are presently able to work from home will be able to work from their offices at any one time, up from the current 50 per cent cap.

Along with this, the limit on the time an employee can spend at the workplace will be lifted. 

Split team arrangements will no longer be mandatory as well.

However, work-related social and recreational gatherings, such as team bonding events, must still be limited to groups of up to eight people.

Restrictions against cross-deployment across workplaces will also remain.

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

They came following a review by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) on the safe management measures at general workplace settings.

“Employers are encouraged to continue with work-from-home arrangements, but more employees will be allowed to return to the workplace to better support work and business operations,” said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a press release accompanying the announcement.

Notwithstanding these, MOH said employers should continue to stagger start times and implement flexible working hours where possible. 

“These measures help to lower transmission risks by reducing interactions at the workplace and reducing crowding at common spaces at or near the workplace and in public places, including public transport,” it said.

Although split team arrangements will not be required anymore, companies can continue to adopt such arrangements for business continuity purposes if they so choose, the ministry added.

MOH, however, reminded employers to continue implementing the prevailing safe management measures, such as regular cleaning of common spaces, demarcating safe physical distancing and mask-wearing at all times.

Enforcement actions, including the possibility of workplace closures, will be taken against employers who fail to comply, it said.

The ministry also called on companies to avoid holding work-related events over mealtimes as far as possible. “Due to the higher risk of transmission when people are unmasked, meals should not be the main feature of the event,” it said.

Public transport system

Asked by the media if the public transport system is ready to cope with a surge in employees returning to their workplaces, Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who is also co-chair of the Covid-19 multi-ministry taskforce, said the Government recognises that this is a concern.

That is why employers are strongly encouraged to continue to put in place measures like staggered start times and flexible working hours, he said.

“The public sector will do its part in this regard, and we certainly hope private sector employers will also co-operate,” Wong added.

MOM updated its advisory for businesses and employers to reflect the changes on Wednesday.

In it, the ministry reminded companies to take care of their workers by continuing to conduct virtual meetings as far as possible, and paying special attention to vulnerable employees, such as those aged 60 and above and the immunocompromised.

In staggering start times, MOM advised employers to have at least half of all employees arrive at the workplace at or after 10am as far as possible.

“If physical meetings are needed, they can be scheduled after 10am,” it said. “These measures would enable more employees to avoid peak-hour travel, especially if employees require the use of public transport.”

If it is not feasible to implement staggered work hours due to operational reasons, such as if manufacturing production line activities are involved, employers must implement other systemic arrangements to prevent employees from congregating at common spaces, MOM added.

Following the announcement, NTUC deputy secretary-general Cham Hui Fong said the labour movement will work with companies to ensure that the transition to new working arrangements is properly planned and communicated to employees.

“There must be reasonable time for adjustment to resume operations smoothly and safely,” she said.

SNEF executive director Sim Gim Guan added that the changes would allow to introduce innovative work arrangements that aligned business requirements with employees’ needs.

“This would enable employers to remain competitive and sustain the implementation of flexible work arrangements in the post-Covid-19 economy,” he said. — TODAY

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