With no signs of the COVID-19 pandemic abating, current workplace arrangements will not be seeing much changes in the near future. Working from home is to remain the default arrangement, said Singapore’s tripartite partners (which comprises the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF)) on 22 January 2021.
This means that current guidelines and advisories will remain in place, despite last month’s Phase 3 reopening.
Employees To Continue Working From Home
After a joint review on whether there was a need to adjust safe management measures (SMM) at the workplace, the tripartite decided it is safer to have people to continue working from home. This is due to recent trends in COVID-19 cases in the community, including at workplaces, as well as a higher risk of potentially more transmissible strains of the coronavirus.
Current guidelines from MOM require employers to ensure that those whose jobs can be done from home continue to work from home for at least half their working time. For example, a full-time worker with a six-day work week is allowed to be in the office for up to three days in a week.
Returning to the workplace can either be initiated by the employee and agreed upon with the employer, or directed by the employer. In addition, employers must ensure that no more than half of employees who are able to work from home are at the workplace at any point in time.
Whether it is a team meeting, conference or event, companies should continue to conduct virtual meetings as much as possible.
Stagger Start Times And Allow Flexible Work Hours
The tripartite also noted that peak-hour travel on public transport in January increased by 11% compared to November last year and it urged companies to implement staggered work hours more extensively to avoid peak-hour travel crush.
Employers should stagger the start times for all employees such that at least half of all employees at the workplace start work in the workplace at or after 10am, as far as possible. Employers should also allow for flexible workplace hours for employees who can work-from-home but who return to the workplace.
For example, employers could allow a proportion of their employees to work in the workplace from 10am-4pm, while working from home the rest of the time. Or employers could also allow their employees to work-from-home in the morning, and only return to the workplace in the afternoon.
Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung also addressed the increase in peak-hour travel on his Facebook page. He wrote: “COVID-19 has made us use technology to work smarter, and demonstrated that even as more people return to office to work, the peak hour rush and crush is totally unnecessary.
“So for staff who need to go back to office, I urge employers to have them travel off-peak.”
Split Team Arrangements Should Remain
By now, some companies may have already implemented a Team A and Team B arrangement, so that when Team A is in the office, Team B will work from home and vice versa. This setup should continue as much as possible to reduce the risk of interaction. MOM advises that there should be no cross-deployment or interaction between employees in different shifts, teams or worksites, even outside of work.
Non-Work Related Activities Are Not Allowed
The tripartite partners also reminded companies not to organise gatherings and social activities such as lohei or Chinese New Year meals, as these are not work-related activities and would not be allowed.
Of course, the usual practices of wearing masks at the workplace and observing good hygiene remain, including minimising socialising and adhering to the current permissible group size. The prevailing safety management measures at the workplace remain vital to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and to continue safe reopening of the economy.
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