Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) announced various social distancing measures on 13 March 2020 to be taken to reduce the risk of local spread of COVID-19, including at workplaces. these are aimed to limit large crowds gathering in close proximity over prolonged duration.

Since then, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) have encouraged employers to adopt social distancing measures at the workplace, as well as rolled out more details on how to practice social distancing.

While these have been issued by Singapore, we are confident employers all over Asia will find them useful as part of their business continuity practices to fight the coronavirus.

Following are the details guidelines on how to adopt social distancing in a work environment:

Work from home: Telecommuting/videoconferencing

Employers are encouraged to adopt telecommuting or videoconferencing to allow employees to work from home. Measures could include reviewing the work processes and providing the necessary IT equipment to employees.

Special attention should be paid to vulnerable employees (e.g. older employees, pregnant employees and employees who have underlying medical conditions) to enable them to work from home where feasible.

Cases where it is not possible to work from home

There are job roles or functions where it is not feasible for the employee to work from home, such as frontline operations and fieldwork at construction sites, shipyards or plants.

In such cases, employers should consider alternate arrangements, such as:

  • Reduce duration and proximity of physical interactions: If there is a need for physical meetings, the number of attendees could be limited and the duration shortened. They could also be dispersed to more than one meeting venue, and linked up through videoconferencing or teleconferencing.
  • Physical seating 1m apart: Where possible, employers could also provide for wider physical spacing (of at least 1m apart) for work stations and between seats in meeting rooms.
  • Stagger working hours: Implement staggered working hours where feasible to reduce possible congregation of employees at common spaces such as entrances/exits, lifts, pantries/canteens etc. This also lets employees to commute to and from work at off-peak hours.
    For example, if the normal working hours are from 9am to 6pm, employers can stagger reporting times at one-hour intervals between 7.30 am and 10.30 am, with corresponding staggered timings for end of work. Timings of lunch and other breaks can also be staggered.
  • Defer or scale down non-critical events: Workplace activities which involve close and prolonged contact amongst participants which are not critical to business operations, such as welfare activities or celebratory functions should be deferred.
    If these events cannot be deferred, employers should limit these to no more than 250 participants at any point in time and put in place precautionary measures such as temperature/health screening and online registration.
  • What to do if your event can't be deferred: During such events, employers should reduce the crowding of participants and improve ventilation where possible. For example, participants could be seated at least 1m apart, and be advised to reduce contact with others (e.g. avoid shaking hands).
  • Implement or enhance shift arrangements: For suitable workplace settings such as in manufacturing, employers can consider deploying employees in shifts, if such arrangements are not yet in place, while extending operational hours to maintain production output.
  • Human traffic management measures: Employers should consider clear separation of employees on different shifts, such as implementing human traffic management measures and stepping up cleaning of common areas during shift changeovers.
  • Communicate and explain what's going on: Prior to implementing the above measures, employers should clearly communicate and explain them to employees. Unionised companies should engage their unions on such arrangements.

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