I would suggest that rather than leaving it up to employers to decide whether their employees would work from home, the Government can adopt a tripartite approach of facilitating employers to offer their employees the choice of working remotely by briefing employees in advance of the employers’ expectation on and requirement of, such arrangements. It is an opportunity for the Government to take the lead in further developing and promoting a national telework and telecommuting framework of general best practices as well as those for individual industries, given that many legal, social and personal issues would be intertwined. The pandemic challenge can be an opportunity to embed such framework across the entire economy through greater financial support and incentive to both employers and employees in a bid to improve labour productivity such that Singapore can continue to reap the benefits from such improvements after the crisis thereby positioning Singapore well for the eventual recovery in world economy. In addition, teleworking and telecommuting would likely address other quality of life challenges facing Singapore such as peak hour congestions of traffic and public transport as well as vehicular emissions.
Ultimately, as Governor Cuomo of New York State had said in relation to the fight against COVID-19: “…you don’t win on defense, you win on offense…”. Accordingly, one perspective on Singapore’s pandemic battle is that each household is a unit and each home is a bunker such that the Government’s imperative would be to encourage and facilitate as many household members to retreat into the safety of their homes as possible for as long as possible thereby minimising their exposure to the virus. Giving parents the choice of remote education for their children and telework for themselves is a major offensive to get ahead of the virus paraphrasing Cuomo, by turning as many of our homes into ‘production centres’ as possible whilst reducing the potential risk of infection faced by those who must continue to be out of their homes for extended periods most of the time.
Gamification can be used to incentivise residents to voluntarily stay home with a possible measure being the award of lottery tickets for a super draw to all the residents in a block which has the most number of households remaining in their homes for the longest period during the period preceding the super draw, in their estate or in a designated area. Such a scheme can underscore the importance of the collective effort in controlling the spread of the virus and can provide people with a tangible goal and measure on their contribution to the pandemic control in their neighbourhoods.
At the same time, we should encourage innovation in the development of what I would call the ‘coronaconomy’ by maximising the productivity of those who must go to work with a simple example being a solution to the current unavailability of delivery slots for online grocery purchase due to an explosion in the demand for such service. Grocery chains can sign up workers who cannot work from home as freelance grocery deliverers for their blocks so that such workers can make a short detour on their way home to collect and then deliver groceries ordered by their neighbours whilst being rewarded for their time and effort. This may provide grocery chains with a cost-effective delivery solution which in turn enables grocery shops to offer online purchase collection service to the public thereby alleviating the long queues in some shopping malls as shoppers wait to get into the grocery stores without observing social distancing requirement.
To win against COVID-19, not only can the Government crowdsource solutions by tapping on people’s diverse talents and perspectives, we the residents can also take the initiative to offer our ideas in good faith to support our war effort, so that our society and our economy can leverage on technologies and our collective goodwill to soldier on with every individual and organisation continuing to function and interact but with more precise coordination with each other to minimise virus transmissions. By recognising that despite our different roles in society, every one of us is on the frontline and has a non-delegable duty to contribute in our own way to the collective effort to hold the line, our eventual victory will come faster at a lower cost thereby allowing us to share our experience and resources with other countries to help them to achieve their victories.