Singapore business district bustling again as more workers return to offices

Office workers in the Central Business District waiting for a table at Clifford Centre's food court during their lunch hour. — TODAY pic
Office workers in the Central Business District waiting for a table at Clifford Centre's food court during their lunch hour. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, April 5 — The Central Business District (CBD) was bustling today — the first day of relaxed workplace restrictions — with snaking queues spotted in food courts and hawker centres during lunch. 

The Government announced last month that starting today, up to 75 per cent of employees who are able to work from home can work from their offices at any one time, up from the previous 50 per cent cap.

Split-team arrangements are also no longer mandatory and there is no limit on the time an employee can spend at the workplace.

Previously, working from home was the default arrangement and a limited number of home-based employees could return to offices for up to half of their total working time.

The earlier restrictions, which had been in place since Sept 28 last year, were put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19. 

Between 8.30am and 10am today, TODAY observed a steady stream of people arriving at the Tanjong Pagar and Raffles Place MRT stations, though the trains were not packed to the brim. 

Maslinda Maswari, who was at Tanjong Pagar station, said she has been going into the office once a week since June last year and will now increase this to three times a week.  

The 50-year-old office manager said: “We are a small firm, around seven employees, so not more than three were allowed in the office. We all mostly worked from home unless something urgent came up.

“But now we are hoping to ease our employees back into it, so we are starting to come back thrice or twice a week each but not more than four of us a day.”

She said that while she prefers to work from home to save on travelling time and is “100 per cent efficient” from home, she acknowledged that it is also important to see her colleagues to “bond”. 

Return of lunchtime crowd a boon for food businesses  

The return of the hustle and bustle of the CBD was seen clearly during lunch hour with snaking queues at stalls at a number of food courts and hawker centres. 

At the Clifford Centre’s food court, stall attendant Shandy Chua said that the place was much more crowded than last week.

“Last week there were queues but they were not as long. It definitely seems like more people have returned to work,” said Chua, who sells nyonya kueh and is in her 60s. 

Kaii Hashim, 30, a supervisor at Kipos Gourmet at One Raffles Place which serves salad bowls, said that her store was 10 per cent more crowded than last week. 

“But it’s raining today so it might not be the most accurate representation,” she said.

“But I do see a lot more people walking in and out compared to the last few months. There’s more crowd than usual so that is good for us.” 

At Jewel Coffee in Tanjong Pagar Centre, a 24-year-old barista who only wanted to be known as Ms Hau said her outlet was busier compared to last Monday. She said that sales had also increased but declined to give details. 

“Usually it’s quite empty except for lunch time but today there seems to be a lot more people walking about in the area,” she said. 

Doco Donburi at International Plaza, which sells Japanese rice bowls, saw an increase of about 15 per cent in sales compared to the week before. 

Part-time cashier Lukas Tan, 19, said: “There were many more orders today, both from people eating-in and those taking away. Over the last few weeks there have been office people around but not as many as today.”

With more workers back in the office, TODAY observed that many were on the lookout for a seat to have their lunch.  

Sisters Sofi Mohd Yussoff, 34, and Shereen Mohd Yussoff, 29, who are both payroll officers, have been back at work since July last year. 

“Usually this place is 50 per cent packed, today about 80 per cent. Just last week we didn’t have to queue for this, but now we do,” said Sofi, who waited 10 to 15 minutes for her food to be prepared. 

She added that the restrictions on seating arrangements at food courts should be updated to accommodate the return of more workers.

“It feels like most people are back in the office and not everyone has the luxury of space in their own office to eat so they should lift the seating arrangements restrictions,” she said. 

Ms Tai Wai Ling, 40, who was having lunch at Marina Bay Financial Centre food court said it was 20 per cent more crowded than she is used to, having returned to work since October last year. 

The recruitment consultant said: “Everyone has their masks but I feel they need to be aware of social distancing. As long as they pay more attention to that, I feel safe.” — TODAY

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