During the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the Singapore government raised the level of its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition to orange in February. This followed by the implementation of Circuit Breaker in April to control the spread of the virus. Office, school and non-essential services are closed down. People had to work from home and students are learning online from home.
While emptying the workplaces could significantly help reduce or slow down the infection, avoiding the workplace is not regarded as a long-term sustainable solution. Instead, experts believe the key to minimising transmission in workplaces is to keep the office healthy and safe. This article addresses the matters of working from home as the new norm as well as the ways to ensure safe returns to workplaces amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Is Working From Home The New Normal?
Experts are still assessing the full effect of prolonged working from home policy. However, the policy has adverse effects on businesses, especially services and restaurants that mainly cater to office workers. Furthermore, in certain sectors, the need to access on-site workstation with sensitive information rules out the implementation of working from home policy.
Others may also find face-to-face interaction to be more productive. Even the CEO of giant companies like Netflix, which flaunts a flexible working culture, stated that the environment of not being able to get together in person is a sheer negative.
While the work-from-home policy may enhance the work-life balance of some employees, several surveys, including one that the Mind Science Centre of NUHS conducted, found that the toll of such a policy on mental health can be sufficiently great over a prolonged period, with increased stress and anxiety because of the blurring of professional and personal boundaries.
Singapore Nudges Companies To Have Their Employees Return To Safer Workplaces
The Multi-Ministry Task Force has urged companies to have employees return to workplaces since the end of September as part of the country’s Phase 2 reopening. However, since the country has yet to win the battle against COVID-19 threat, companies need to enforce necessary safety precautions to minimise the infection. Much will depend on them maintaining a clean working environment, beyond complying with the minimum standard established by the government directives.
How To Ensure Safe Returns To Workplaces?
Here are some of the recommended guidelines to ensure safe returns to workplaces.
- Small Changes Can Bring a Huge Difference
Research by the University of Arizona discovered that regular cleaning of high-contact surfaces, regular handwashing, and the use of sanitisers or cleaning wipes could reduce the spread of microbes in the office. Hence, encouraging workers to exercise social obligations and practice good hygiene can make a big impact. Implementing these changes help reduce infection risk to less than 10% compared to a 40 to 90% risk without them.Some quarters in Singapore put down safe distancing notices at work stations and common areas, such as meeting rooms and pantry. Cleaning kits are also found in meeting rooms for personnel to disinfect the space.Owners and landlords can also assess their structures and technical systems for compliance with regular surface cleaning and safe distancing enforcement, along with the small, particular touches which reduce contact along the journey from the front door to the work station.
- Pay Attention To Common Surfaces And Ventilation
Offices should be well-ventilated with high-efficiency filters and UV light technologies which can eliminate microorganisms. If not possible, then a simple capability of the office to open windows to let airborne particles escape as much as possible and bring in fresh, outdoor air can be helpful.Occasionally, companies may opt for an office disinfection service for in-depth cleaning. Some office cleaning services in Singapore also offer Ultra-shield services, which protects surfaces with an odourless and colourless coating with a 99.99% effectiveness against microbes, including coronavirus.There is also increasing momentum regarding contactless access to buildings with the help of mobile devices applications and destination control elevator technology. The hospitality sector is leading the way with digital check-ins and mobile keys.
- Buildings as the first line of defense against diseases
Corporate real estate professionals and business leaders are increasingly aware that buildings can serve as the first line of defense against diseases. Last year, the School of Design and Environment of National University Singapore was the first building in the country and the first university in the world to obtain WELL Certified Gold for fulfilling all ten targets, including light, air, and light and thermal control which support human health.
As much as working from home can boost work-life balance and may be effective in slowing down the spread of COVID-19 infections, it is not a feasible long-term solution. The government is urging companies to let their employees return to a safer and healthier workplace by focusing on maintaining a healthy work environment for both their employees and clients.