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How Will Office Life Look Like Post-COVID-19?

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How Will Office Life Look Like Post-COVID-19? 2

The government recently announced that there will be no further extension to the circuit breaker measure in Singapore and that it’ll be lifted on June 1 as planned.

Many Singaporeans were looking forward to resuming life as per normal and return to the office for work.

However, the authorities have expressed that “those who have been working from home so far should continue to do so.”

They added that employees should only go to the office when necessary, such as those who require machinery or specialised terminals, or those who need to complete legal documentation.

Simply said, most of us can’t return to the office just yet — but as and when we do, office life will definitely be different than what we’re used to.

Mandatory Temperature Checks And SafeEntry Check-Ins

To aid with the government’s contact tracing efforts, SafeEntry has been deployed at ‘hotspot’ areas such as supermarkets and malls.

It is a national digital check-in system that logs visitors entering and leaving the premises. Visitors can check-in using SafeEntry by scanning their NRIC or QR code via their mobile phone or the SingPass app.

SafeEntry check-in / Image Credit: Gov.sg

Early this month, the government has extended its deployment to more places and mandated that workplaces such as offices and factories must also implement SafeEntry from May 12.

This means that all workers must check-in and check-out upon reaching, and leaving the office building.

E-commerce firm Shopee, for one, has already implemented SafeEntry both at its office building and warehouse facility.

“The digital check-in system is aimed at improving contact tracing efforts and helping to prevent clusters from forming. Shopee is committed to doing our part to adhere to government regulations during this time, [ensuring] that everyone in the Shopee community is safe, healthy and protected,” said Lim Teck Yong, head of regional operations and people team at Shopee.

For dating company Lunch Actually, its building management has implemented temperature checks and taken down every visitor’s details even before the circuit breaker started.

I think SafeEntry will simply replace the manual process. We will still require everyone coming in the building to do temperature checks and register with SafeEntry.

– Violet Lim, CEO and co-founder of Lunch Actually Group

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Temperature checking at an office building in the CBD / Image Credit: Bloomberg

Besides SafeEntry, daily temperature screening before employees enter the workplace will probably be implemented across all offices too.

This is a means of health-monitoring measure. If an employee has a fever, or a temperature of 37.5°C and above, they would have to be sent home as a safety precaution.

Ramping Up Hygiene And Sanitisation

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Masks and hand sanitizers will be commonplace in the office / Image Credit: JustCo

Wearing of masks is already made mandatory in public places, and it’s likely that this will extend to the workplace too.

For Lunch Actually, Violet said that the firm provides hand sanitizers and masks for all its consultants, and require them to wear the mask when they meet clients for consultation.

Clients and other visitors who come to their office are also required to wear a face mask.

As for social recruiting firm Wantedly, its country manager Andrew Tan said that they have “extra masks on standby for (their) employees” in case anyone needs one.

Offices must also ramp up its hygiene levels by conducting frequent disinfection to reduce the chances of spreading germs around the workplace.

High-touch areas such as work desks, keyboards, computer mice, phones, door handles and even toilet seats have to be regularly disinfected.

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Keycard entry system in the office / Image Credit: Shutterstock

On that note, some offices might start deploying contactless technologies to minimise contact. For instance, door handles and buttons could be replaced with facial recognition or keycard entry systems to gain access to the office.

Staggered Work And Break Hours

As per the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) guidelines, employers must implement staggered working and break hours to reduce possible congregation of employees at all common spaces.

For homegrown online money changer firm Thin Margin, once they are allowed to resume business, all of their staff will continue to work from home where possible.

Some exceptions include our cash processing personnel where they will require access to the cash processing machine to pack our currencies order, and also our delivery riders where they need to physically deliver the currencies to our customer.

We will have staggering working and break hours to minimise contacts among our returning staff.  

– Tan Jin and Alstone Tee, co-founders of Thin Margin

Meanwhile, Wantedly said that they will “ease the return of all staff” once they are allowed to return to the office.

It will not be as immediately as it was before, say in January, with full strength. The way we see it, we’ll have to ‘reverse’ the process to when the safe measures were first implemented [such as splitting the staff into] Team A and B.

We will also not require staff to come in from 9am so as to avoid peak-hour travel. There will be some leeway with the official working hours as well.

– Andrew Tan, country manager for Wantedly Singapore

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Office pantry / Image Credit: Airbnb Singapore

Beyond staggering work hours, companies may also introduce a shift system for lunch to prevent large groups from gathering in communal areas.

Some companies might even discourage employees from lunching together to minimise social interaction — even the government has urged Singaporeans to refrain from talking to prevent the spread of droplets.

Could this however, cause a backlash and erode company culture?

According to Andrew, working from home as part of the circuit breaker measures has already forced the company to stay apart from each other. Regardless, this hasn’t impacted them culturally.

Even from home, we arrange for games day every Friday where we put aside work for the last hour and enjoy online games together over Zoom to round off the week.

We’ve actually had two interns [who] started with us during the circuit breaker period, so they’ve both never stepped into the office [for] work. From onboarding to training, everything was done over Zoom. Weekly catch-ups and games night really helped us to get to know each other better and build a rapport.

– Andrew Tan, country manager for Wantedly Singapore

Echoing this sentiment, Thin Margin said that the safe-distancing and telecommuting measures do little to erode the company bond.

“Fortunately in our case, our staff actually grew closer as we tried to support each other during this difficult time. Perhaps like what people always say, absence makes the heart [grow] fonder,” said co-founders Tan Jin and Alstone Tee.

Telecommuting Will Be A Norm

Most Singaporeans have been working from home for almost two months now, so it’s safe to assume that we have acclimated to this new work arrangement.

COVID-19 has unknowingly accelerated the shift towards a digital economy following the rise of online teleconferencing, chats, discussions and digital marketing,

What this pandemic has taught us is that with the right technology in place, not everyone needs to be at the same place at the same time. Companies are also beginning to discover that employees can contribute effectively despite being geographically dispersed.

This could usher our progress towards a hybrid work movement. A five-day work week may soon be a thing of the past — we will no longer be required to step into the office everyday, and can opt to work-from-home on certain days.

This pandemic has greatly altered how we approach our work physically. New normals such as working from home at least once or twice a week would be a great move to boost employee morale and offer flexibility.

– Andrew Tan, country manager for Wantedly Singapore

After all, reducing the number of days in the office can mean saving on company overheads such as rent and utilities. It’s a win-win for both employer and employees, as long as productivity is not compromised.

Perhaps, now’s also the time to think of what defines “efficiency” — it’s not about how much time is spent in the office, the emphasis should be on completing a task within a specified time frame instead.

Social Distancing In Lifts, Workspace

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Social distancing in lifts / Image Credit: Lillian Suwanrumpha via AFP

Social distancing will be a mainstay, beyond queuing for the office toilet or limiting the number of people in the lift.

You will also have to bid goodbye to your desk buddy as companies rejig seating arrangements. All staff have to sit a minimum of one metre apart from each other, making sure that there’s an empty seat between each desk.

On that note, the size of in-person meetings also have to be reduced so employees can maintain a physical distance. As much as possible, meetings, workshops and training have to be conducted online.

For Lunch Actually, this pandemic has forced them to pivot to host virtual consultations, dates, speed-dating events, coaching sessions and even large-scale webinars.

For our clients, we will also still be offering virtual consultations and date options for them as we do not want to enforce everyone to start going out at once.

Since we have been arranging virtual dates so far, it has been positively received by most of our clients and they have enjoyed the convenience of meeting their matches virtually so I think we will definitely still continue to offer this, even way after circuit breaker is over.

– Violet Lim, CEO and co-founder of Lunch Actually Group

In line with social distancing, handshakes will be disallowed, making way for new greeting trends. Earlier this year, billboards in Beijing promoted clasping one’s own hands so you can expect the emergence of more safe-distance greetings.

Besides keeping physical distance, social distancing also means keeping socialising to a minimum.

That said, firms have to be mindful to avoid company outings and all workers have to return home after work instead of meeting friends for dinner or drinks.

Embracing The New Normal Of Work

Based on the interviews with various Singapore firms on how this pandemic will be reshaping their workplace, it’s evident that they are not making radical office changes.

None of them are making wholesale changes such as installing a thermal scanner, or retrofitting a plexiglass or some other form of sneeze or cough guards.

Their changes are minimal, yet goes a long way in keeping staff safe. It can be as simple as opening the office windows to improve airflow and ventilation, or supplying masks and hand sanitizers to all employees.

Diseases can spread easily from person to person in a workplace, so we must continue to be vigilant and ensure that we exercise the necessary safety precautions.

For now, it’s clear that the post-pandemic workplace will reveal a world in which online meetings are the norm, hand sanitizer is at the ready, and staff don’t have to step into the office five days a week.

Featured Image Credit: Ed Jones via AFP

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