Singapore bankers reject returning to office even as Covid restrictions eased

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Singapore bankers reject returning to office even as Covid restrictions eased

Finance professionals in Singapore hope their banks will not use the upcoming easing of Covid-19 restrictions to force them back to the office.

Under new government rules, more employees who are currently working from home can return to the office from 5 April. Up to 75% of those who can work from home will be allowed to come back to their workplace at any one time, up from the current 50%. Employers are not obliged to boost their office workforces, and are still encouraged to support as many employees in working from home as possible. More details are available on the Ministry of Manpower website.

While the loosening of restrictions reflects Singapore’s ongoing success in managing the pandemic, bankers we spoke with hope their firms will not ramp up office occupancy to the new maximum threshold. They want to stick with current hybrid arrangements, which involve a significant percentage of working from home (WFH).

An employee at a private bank says she is working from the office on alternate weeks. “This is going perfectly fine for me. Employees should be given the flexibility to work at any location of choice. Productivity is not measured by the location in which we work from,” she adds.

A portfolio manager at a large asset management firm says he’s spending half of his time at home. “I think it strikes a good balance right now, and the office is always available if need be for face-to-face meetings. I don’t think there will be any major changes to this until we can be at 100% capacity in the office,” he says. Two days at home and three days in the office might be the “new norm” from 5 April, says a corporate finance banker, but this is only a slight increase from his current office-based working ratio.

Globally, some banks – notably Goldman Sachs – have rejected WFH as the new normal and stressed that staff should ultimately return to the office. Standard Chartered in Singapore, however, appears to be taking a different line. Standard Chartered employees told us they have agreed to new flexible working arrangements in their contracts.

“I’m in the office about two days a week on random days of my choice and intend to continue doing so post 5 April. There was a flexi working initiative in my bank that allowed us to review the flexible working arrangement of our choice. This is official in our contract, so the government announcement doesn’t impact me,” says one Stan Chart employee who works in financial markets. “We’ve been given the choice to select the number of days to WFH, but the new arrangement is still subject to business needs and management approvals,” says another.

We contacted Standard Chartered and several other banks in Singapore about the April 5 relaxation of office-working regulations. Most declined to comment. A spokesperson for Citi says the firm is “reviewing our policies in light of the latest announcement”. Other banks are understood to be doing the same, with updates to working policies expected in the next few days. HSBC, for example, is understood to be clarifying a few issues with government bodies before making an announcement.

Not everyone in the Singapore finance sector fears a return to the office. “I’m probably in the minority, but I love coming to the office. I’ve been working in the office as much as possible, but of course ensuring that staff ratios are compliant,” says a senior wealth manager. “But about 70% of my peers prefer to work from home. They’ve actually got used to it and love the idea. Their ideal arrangement is one or two days in the office, and the rest WFH,” he adds.

Photo by Mike Enerio on Unsplash

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Email: smortlock@efinancialcareers.com or Telegram: @simonmortlock. You can also follow me on LinkedIn.

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