Some firms still asking staff to work in office despite stricter rules

When Ms Alex, a trainee at a design company, stepped into her office last week, 11 of her colleagues were there, not wearing masks or observing social distancing.

She voiced her concerns but they were dismissed. Her superiors told her that working from home made people lazy, so they could not be trusted to stay away from the office.

Ms Alex, who is in her mid-20s, spoke to The Straits Times on condition of anonymity, as did six others who told ST that they were being asked to go back to the office despite Singapore's latest Covid-19 rules.

They cited three main reasons - employers not trusting them to work from home, employers believing they would be more productive at the workplace and a lack of flexibility in company policy.

The latest restrictions - aimed at reducing community spread of the virus - require that only those who need to be at the workplace for reasons such as needing to access specific equipment housed there should be allowed in.

On Monday, the Ministry of Manpower said it had fined 11 companies $1,000 each for not ensuring that their employees stay home.

An engineer at a large manufacturing company, who wanted to be known only as Henry, said that even though his job involves mainly coding and other desk-bound duties, he and his colleagues have been asked to go back to the office on rotation.

"The only reason we were given for being asked to go back is that they say we have higher project productivity when everyone is in the office," he added.

Since May 16, the start of tighter Covid-19 curbs, he and his colleagues have been on a 14-day split-shift system.


Henry, who is in his mid-20s, said that while safe distancing measures are in place in the office, he is concerned about being exposed to the virus during his daily commute on public transport.

Others cite inflexible company policy as the reason that they are asked to go into the office all the time.

Mr David Leong, managing director of recruitment company PeopleWorldwide Consulting, said some employers' insistence on a return to the office is probably a failure to respond quickly to the shift in workplace policy.

Just last month, companies were told that working from home was no longer the default, with up to 75 per cent of staff able to return to the workplace at any one time, from 50 per cent before.

He said employers need to understand the situation and re-pattern their work flows.

Mr Leong said employees should continue to raise their issues to their human resource teams, and failing that, file reports with the Ministry of Manpower.

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.