Singapore bankers brace for more WFH (and duller offices) in “new normal” Covid-19 world

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Singapore bankers brace for more WFH (and duller offices) in “new normal” Covid-19 world

If you’re a finance professional tiring of working from home in Singapore and longing for a swift return to the office, you should probably not get your hopes up.

The circuit breaker period is due to end on 1 June and some of its restrictions are being lifted before then, but recent pronouncements from government suggest that remote working may remain the norm in some financial services jobs after that date. And if you do have to come to the office next month, the environment there could be decidedly dull.

The government will ease some of the tighter circuit breaker measures progressively over the coming weeks, while preparing for the “safe and gradual resumption of economic and community activities” from 1 June, according to the Ministry of Health (MOH) website.

Workplaces will be reopened in phases, taking into account their importance to the economy and supply chains, their contribution to local employment, and their ability to minimise risks of transmission at their workplaces.

What this means for financial services will become clear later this month as further details are released. The finance sector is currently considered an essential service, so it is already exempt from the circuit breaker’s requirement to close workplaces. However, the Monetary Authority of Singapore told financial institutions last month that staff levels on their premises must be reduced to a minimum. Despite their importance to the economy, banks and other finance firms may not receive a green light to return all employees to the office from 1 June.

It is more likely that essential employees (in particular traders and operations professionals), who are already on-site during the circuit breaker, will still make up the bulk of office-based staff at banks come next month. Their colleagues might only be gradually reintroduced back to the workplace. MOH says companies must still “continue to allow staff to work from home wherever possible”.

Banks are likely to support this type of approach, both on health grounds and given that working from home arrangements appear to be running smoothly in Singapore so far. DBS, for example, said on Thursday that about 99% and 90% of its developers and relationship managers, respectively, are working remotely. The bank successfully managed an 88-fold year-on-year increase in VPN usage in the first quarter and held 1.2m virtual meetings in April alone.

In a new survey from recruiters Michael Page, 91% of respondents across industries in Singapore say their employers were well prepared for implementing WFH procedures, while 80% say they are happy with levels of “remote engagement” in their jobs. Finance professionals we spoke with last month were similarly upbeat. “Most of my team are extremely lucky because we have jobs that can generally be done from home. We have the tech, and with a bit of imagination, WFH can work out,” the head of technology at a major financial institution in Singapore told us.

Meanwhile, if you do find yourself in the office next month, MOH is set to impose stringent requirements on you and your employer. Staff gatherings will be banned (you should not be “interacting at staff canteens, or going out in groups during lunch breaks”). Companies will also have to “enforce safe distancing amongst their employees at the workplace; stagger working hours and break times; and ensure no cross-deployment of staff across teams or worksites”, according to MoH. The ministry says further details on specific workplace measures will be announced in due course.

“Social responsibility is critical in slowing the spread of Covid-19,” says MOH’s website. “Even as the circuit breaker measures are gradually eased, all of us should continue to stay at home as much as possible, and minimise movement outside the home. In the community and at workplaces, we must keep up good habits such as safe distancing, personal hygiene and wearing of masks. This must be our new normal in a Covid-19 world.”

Photo by Daniel Chekalov on Unsplash

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Email: smortlock@efinancialcareers.com or Telegram: @simonmortlock

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