In a sign that most Singapore banking professionals will not be returning to the office on 2 June after the circuit breaker ends, Citi has just announced that a majority of its staff will continue working from home until July.
Currently, 88% of Citi’s Singapore workforce of about 8,500 are working remotely, while another 12% are on-premises. The bank will maintain this split until July, it said in a statement released on Thursday evening.
“The majority of our staff have been working effectively from home,” said Amol Gupte, head of ASEAN and Citi country officer for Singapore. “There is no urgency to bring them back on-site at the end of the circuit breaker. I see benefits in being deliberately slow and measured in our return to ensure their safety and wellbeing.”
Other large banks in Singapore are unlikely to ask significant numbers of employees to come back to the office next week, according to two bankers we spoke with today. Under phase one of Singapore’s staggered reopening plan, which starts on Tuesday, the government is still encouraging office workers to stay at home. Employees should only return to work if they need specialised equipment that cannot be accessed from home, or if they must fulfil legal requirements such as completing contracts or transactions.
In Hong Kong, which has fewer Covid-19 cases than Singapore and did not implement a full lockdown, banks have been quicker to get people back on-site following the easing of social distancing rules there earlier this month. About half of UBS and Morgan Stanley staff in the city were in the office by mid-May, for example. The figure at Citi was 30% and has since risen.
Even in July, Citi says it won’t rush the return of Singapore employees – they will be coming back “incrementally over a period” from the start of that month. “The timing and process of coming back to the office will vary based on office location, office setup, resources and medical guidance. Citi Singapore is also evaluating the diverse needs of its various teams when developing its return to office strategy,” says the statement.
The slow return is party designed to give Citi time to revamp its offices in Singapore. Some of the measures that will be implemented include safe distancing at work stations, mandatory wearing of face masks or full-face shields, and ensuring that staff do not mingle during meal times or in common spaces. Citi is already using the government’s SafeEntry and TraceTogether apps in its offices.
Interestingly, Citi’s return-to-work planning is also focusing on a “longer term strategic shift that will outlive the pandemic”, which suggests a bright future for flexible working arrangements. “Citi Singapore is designing future ways of working by leveraging technology to enable staff to engage effectively with one another and also to better serve its clients,” says the bank’s statement.
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