S’porean Firms To Ease Workers’ Return To Offices From Sept 28

Singapore could enter phase 3 of the reopening of the economy in the coming weeks, according to Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the government working group on Covid-19.

This means that in the coming weeks, the rules for safe distancing will be relaxed and other activities can resume.

This is also in part because Singapore has been successful in keeping the number of Covid-19 cases in the community relatively low.

However, that might not be good news for those who have enjoyed working from home until now.

While working from home remains the default mode of work, more employees will be allowed to return to their workplace starting September 28.

Here’s what you need to know about getting back to the office:

Return to the office even if the work can be done from home

Work at home
Image Credit: Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health

As long as a job can be done from home, the employee should be working from home half the time. This should be calculated over a “reasonable period” not to exceed four weeks.

So, if a person normally works a five-day week, they are allowed to return to the office 2.5 days a week.

For part-time workers, the requirements will be prorated. So, if a part-time worker works three days a week, he can only be in the office 1.5 days a week.

Employers should also ensure that no more than half of the employees who can work from home are in the office at a time.

Although the government has said that meetings should be held practically when possible, regular physical meetings are allowed, provided the above rules are followed.

In order for an employee to return to work full-time, employers are required to demonstrate business or operational reasons as to why such personnel cannot work from home.

External meetings and workplace events

office meetings
Image Credit: Capitaland

Any work, training or meeting performed outside of the workplace is counted as time spent in the office.

Work-related events can resume on the premises of the workplace, with up to 50 people (or fewer, depending on the capacity of the place). Strict social distancing must be observed, with at least one meter between each employee.

According to the Department of Health (MS), work-related events include those that are “business-oriented”, such as conferences, seminars, company retreats, annual general meetings and special general meetings.

Under existing guidelines, employers are not allowed to organize or encourage larger-scale social gatherings inside or outside the workplace.

However, the health ministry said in a statement that it would consider allowing the resumption of work-related events at external locations at a later date.

In addition, religious ceremonies or prayers can be held in the workplace, with up to 30 people at a time, or fewer if there is not enough space to safely distance themselves.

Interaction with colleagues

covid-19 office meetings
Image Credit: TimeOut

Just like in public, everyone in the workplace should wear their mask at all times – unless the nature of your job or the work environment makes it prohibitive.

Employees must be at least one meter away from colleagues, including at their workstation or in meetings.

There should also be no gathering in groups of more than five people (or the permitted group size in effect for social gatherings).

According to the Ministry of Health, the provisions for divided teams or teams must continue to be implemented. Employers must also ensure a clear separation of employees into different teams or teams.

They are also recommended to implement flexible arrangements in the workplace. For example, allowing employees to work from home in the morning and return to work in the afternoon.

Transition to a post-pandemic workplace

Most Singaporeans have been working from home for months now, so it’s safe to say that we’ve adjusted to this new working arrangement.

The current organization of going to work half the time seems to be a reasonable solution for employees who have a love-hate relationship with working from home.

However, even as phase 3 is fast approaching, socialization in the workplace still needs to be kept to a minimum and safe distancing rules should be followed.

Covid-19 is highly contagious, and even though the spread in the Singapore community is low, it is important to continue to be vigilant and take the necessary safety precautions.

Featured Image Credit: Ed Jones via AFP

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Jothi Venkat

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