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Back to the office: 7 things you need to know as Singapore shifts to more flexible way of working amid COVID-19

Back to the office: 7 things you need to know as Singapore shifts to more flexible way of working amid COVID-19

People are seen at Raffles Place in Singapore on Jan 11, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: After more than a year with working from home as the default, employees may face changes yet again as Singapore announced on Wednesday (Mar 24) a shift towards a more “flexible and hybrid” way of working.

More employees will be permitted to return to the workplace from Apr 5, with split team arrangements no longer mandatory.

There will also be no limit on the proportion of an employee’s working time that can be spent at the workplace.

Updated requirements for safe management measures at the workplace were also issued by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Here’s what you need to know:

1. STAGGERED START TIMES, FLEXIBLE WORK HOURS

Employers must ensure staggered start times to ensure that staff members are spread out and reduce possible congregation of personnel at office entrances or lobbies. This will also reduce congestion of people in public places, including public transport, said MOM.

Flexible work hours should also be permitted for employees who may choose to split their working hours between the office and home.

These new measures apply to general workplace settings where more employees may return to better support business operations and in-person collaboration. Specific workplaces like construction worksites and shipyards may have to fulfil additional requirements and should refer to sector-specific requirements.

2. WORKING FROM HOME STILL ENCOURAGED

As the risk of COVID-19 transmission still remains, employers must ensure that no more than 75 per cent of employees - up from 50 per cent currently - who are able to work from home are at the workplace at any point in time.

Employers are encouraged to support as many employees in working from home as possible as this will help to limit the number of people exposed at the workplace at any point in time, and reduce crowding in common areas.

Companies should also continue to conduct virtual meetings as far as possible, added MOM.

3. MAINTAIN “WORK-LIFE HARMONY”

The MOM advisory said work from home measures should enable employees to “maintain work-life harmony” while continuing to meet business needs.

According to the Tripartite Advisory on mental well-being at workplaces, employers can support employees by appointing “mental wellness champions” to raise awareness on mental health. They can do so through talks on stress management, emotional regulation and relaxation techniques.

READ: COVID-19 vaccination now open to Singapore residents aged 45 to 59

Employers can also provide access to counselling services such as through Employee Assistance Programmes. These services allow employees to speak to a professional about their work and non-work related challenges.

4. SPECIAL ATTENTION FOR VULNERABLE EMPLOYEES

Companies are urged to pay special attention to vulnerable employees, such as those aged 60 and above, and patients who are immunocompromised or have concurrent medical conditions.

Employers are encouraged to take appropriate measures to reduce their exposure to infection risk, such as enabling these employees to work-from-home or allow them to commute at off-peak timings. These individuals may also be temporarily redeployed to another role within the company.

5. UP TO 50 PEOPLE AT WORK EVENTS

Work-related events must adhere to a 50-person limit to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 infection, with a minimum of 1m safe distancing maintained between all individual attendees.

Meals should also not be the main feature of the event and employers should avoid hosting events over mealtimes as far as possible.

READ: Weddings, live performances to have increased capacities with pre-event COVID-19 tests

MOM said food or drinks should only be served if “incidental” to the workplace event - for example, if the meeting extends across lunchtime. The food must also be served individually with the participants seated while consuming and the time that these people are unmasked while eating should be minimised.

6. SOCIAL GATHERINGS REMAIN LIMITED TO 8

While up to 50 people are allowed at work-related events, that farewell lunch still counts as a “social and recreational gathering” , which means an eight-person party is the limit, as per prevailing guidelines

This goes for things like team bonding activities as well, within or outside the workplace. Gatherings involving more than a single group of eight people are not allowed, said MOM.

7. EMPLOYERS TO ENSURE SUFFICIENT FACE MASKS, DISINFECTANTS

Need to change your face mask at work? Your employer must ensure it has enough masks for all employees. 

This includes any need to replace masks more frequently due to workplace conditions such as in humid environments or call centres where the nature of work may necessitate frequent mask changing.

“Where possible, employers should consider improving the working environment for employees to enable them to sustain wearing the masks,” said MOM.

Employers must also provide cleaning agents such as liquid soap and toilet paper, as well as disinfecting agents like hand sanitisers, sprays, paper towels or wipes.

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Source: CNA/zl(ac)

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