Returning to office vs. working from home: S'pore execs' dilemma

Wenting Ang
·4-min read
(PHOTO: Getty Images)
(PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE – As individuals continue to get used to working from home – a measure taken and encouraged since Singapore had first gone into COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 – it was recently announced that Singapore-based workplaces would be allowed to have 75% of their workforce back in the office.

Co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force Lawrence Wong said in a press conference that the government “will no longer mandate the requirement for splitting teams. But we will strongly encourage employers to stagger the start times still and implement flexible working hours, and of course, employers must continue to implement all prevailing safe management measures.”

The more “flexible and hybrid way” of working is set to commence from today (5 April). This working method includes options to work half the week from home and the other days in the office or maintain the status quo and continue working from home.

Back to the office, is it a yay or nay for Singaporeans? Yahoo Lifestyle SEA talks to some employees to understand their dilemma on these new changes and their struggles and happiness with working from home.

“I received the email about returning to office a day after the announcement,” Doris Lim, a marketing communication executive, shared. “While working from home is convenient, it blurs the lines between working and personal time.”

Indeed, many observed longer working hours despite saving time on transportation to and fro their workplaces. Meetings running longer usual, cutting into lunch timings and end of the workday, or emails that require urgent attention sent after working hours are reportedly more common since working from home became the norm.

“At least you get to ‘switch off’ when the clock hits 6pm if you are in the office,” Lim said.

For Jessica Peh, the lack of work-life distinction and an increase in utility bills made her welcome the new measures.

“With everyone working from home in my household, we see quite a steep increase in our electricity and water bills. While we try not to have the air-conditioner on every day, it can get frustrating in the afternoon when it is so hot and stuffy in the house,” she shared.

Mother multi-tasking with infant daughter in home office
Mother multi-tasking with infant daughter in home office

Working from home is credited to help employees save on transportation costs. It is common to see at least two persons working from home in some ways during the past year. This new arrangement, however, translates to a substantial increase in utility costs for many households. Some companies believe that working from home is a privilege for their employees, calling them petty and greedy for wanting reimbursements.

“I am already alternating between the office and home before this, but usually it is just a day in the office weekly. Going back to the office full time will be a challenge, especially keeping the mask on for eight hours every day as it can be uncomfortable. Being in contact with more people for a prolonged period can also be scary since the virus has yet to be gone,” Rachel Chong, a social media executive, shared.

Working from home had also shown Lee that most of her work could be done remotely. “Since my job scope revolves around social media management, I had hoped that we get to work from home longer.”

In a Yahoo poll asking Singaporeans for their thoughts of returning to the office, over 70% polled echoed Lee’s hope of “I want to continue working from home”. Only 11% wants to head back to their office as soon as possible, with the other 16% not minding either option.

Despite the increment to 75% workforce in the office, Rae Lai, a customer service officer, has the go-ahead from her bosses to continue her work-from-home arrangement, only returning to the office twice a month.

“I had preferred working from home. I noticed higher efficiency towards my duties and could manage my time better from the comfort of my room. There are also fewer distractions at home as I am easily annoyed by foot traffic and chattering in the office,” she shared. Answering customers’ emails and resolving customers’ disputes over the phone in a quieter environment had helped Lai increase her productivity.

Working from home or going back into the office has its pros and cons, with increased utility bills, more freedom, less potential exposure to the virus, and more.

It is, however, crucial for those returning to their workplaces to continuously maintain safe distancing and management measures. Observing good personal hygiene, such as washing your hands regularly and refraining from touching your face, will go a long way as Singapore’s workplaces open in the new norm.

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