With easing of workplace COVID-19 rules, firms make adjustments while others take wait-and-see approach
SINGAPORE: Come Monday (Apr 5), a 10-member team at Certact Engineering will be in the office in full force for the first time in a year.
The team, handling administration, sales and other non-production matters at the local precision engineering firm, has been split into two since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, taking turns to work from home or in the office on alternate days.
But with COVID-19 workplace measures set to be eased, the team has volunteered to be back in the office full time.
For the company's much bigger production team, a spilt-team arrangement will remain. Certact Engineering currently has 53 employees.
Managing director Ellis Eng said that the work of the 10-member team involves liaising with suppliers and the firm’s in-house production team. Working remotely has made these processes slightly more tedious for some.
“It’s just the nature of being in the semiconductor manufacturing industry,” she said. “While they have volunteered to come back, I have also told them that if they want to work from home, they can do so anytime.”
To accommodate more employees who want to be back in the office while keeping to safe distancing measures, the company has converted a meeting room into a work space.
“We have (to) make arrangements since our office is not very big,” said Ms Eng, adding that shields are already installed to act as barriers between work stations.
EASING OF RULES FROM APR 5
Singapore authorities announced last week that the quota of employees who may return to their workplace will be raised from 50 per cent to 75 per cent from Apr 5.
The current limit requiring employees to work from home for at least half their working time will also be lifted. Split team arrangements will also no longer be mandatory.
READ: Back to the office: 7 things you need to know as Singapore shifts to more flexible way of working amid COVID-19
Still, employers were urged to continue staggering start times for their employees and implement flexible working hours where possible.
Restrictions against cross-deployment will remain, while existing safety measures such as physical distancing and regular cleaning of common spaces must still be implemented.
At Mastercard, employees will be free to decide on the number of days they wish to work in the office from Apr 12, said its executive vice-president for customer delivery in Asia Pacific Shafi Shaikh.
At the moment, employees can only work in the office for a maximum of 10 days out of every four weeks. Those who wish to enter the office must register via an online system that monitors the daily capacity limit, which will be increased to 75 per cent from Apr 12.
Mastercard said it continues to encourage employees who are taking public transport to avoid peak hours. Other safety measures such as temperature checks in the office will also remain.
“Through ongoing communication with our employees, including staff surveys, our people are telling us that they value flexibility but they also want some degree of being back in the office,” said Mr Shaikh, adding that the company's approach will continue "to be pivoted around flexibility with safety".
OTHERS CHOOSE TO “WAIT AND SEE”
There are other companies that are holding back on changes for now.
When contacted by CNA, Google confirmed that a return to the office will “remain voluntary” until September for its employees worldwide.
The tech giant also said employees who are working in a different country from the one where they are employed will be given more time to return until Sep 1, although those who require more time “can apply for an extension based on exceptional circumstances or hardship”.
During the height of the pandemic, Google had allowed some employees to move overseas for personal reasons, such as returning to their home countries.
Twitter, which last year allowed its employees to work from home “forever” if they wish, said its team is “still assessing” the latest relaxing of workplace measures.
“Twitter was one of the first companies to go to a work-from-home model in the face of COVID-19, and we didn’t anticipate being one of the first to return to offices,” it said in an emailed response to CNA.
“So, if our employees are able to work from home effectively and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen.”
Sixty per cent of its Singapore employees have expressed a desire to work from home for good. That said, its office will be ready to welcome those who wish to return to the office or explore a hybrid arrangement, it added.
Relocation start-up Moovaz, whose office is located at Ayer Rajah Crescent, said it is in no hurry to change its existing hybrid work arrangement and will take a wait-and-see approach for the next month or so.
Currently, its 43 employees can work from home for up to four days a week. A rotational schedule ensures that only 30 per cent of staff members are in the office at any one time, according to people lead Miki Ng.
Moovaz said it has made several other changes to work processes over the past year, such as having an increased reliance on cloud-based systems. It has also set aside a budget to help employees top up their personal insurance coverage to include risks that may come from working from home, among other changes to company policies.
With productivity and staff morale unaffected by remote working, it added that these changes have created “some stickiness that makes it not as straightforward” to return to pre-pandemic ways.
The same goes for marketing and communications agency Archetype, which currently allows employees to work in the office only if they want to. As the office has a cap of 20 to 40 per cent of the workforce at any one time, employees will have to book slots beforehand.
Ms Mabel Chiang, its Singapore managing director, said there were concerns about commuting to work prior to the availability of vaccines.
“So we made the option flexible where people can book into the office if they wish to go in,” she told CNA. “That’s our current arrangement and will be until vaccination is rolled out to the wider public.”
Being in the consultancy business, Ms Chiang said the company does not need employees to be physically in the office to keep its engines running. The pandemic has taught it to be agile and thrive in a new normal, she added.
For instance, the agency has put in place several initiatives to help ensure the well-being of its employees by encouraging teams to avoid scheduling business meetings on Fridays and sending emails after 7pm.
Ms Chiang added that a hybrid work arrangement is one that the agency is considering for the longer term, such as having employees work three days in the office and the rest of the week at home.
When that happens, it might rejig its office space by doing away with some work stations to create more collaborative spaces, she said.