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Keep your business afloat during the coronavirus outbreak

How to keep up with daily operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a partial lockdown in place, the COVID-19 pandemic has put economic pressure on businesses all over Singapore. It’s difficult to know what to do with the situation rapidly changing and so many things thrown into chaos. This guide will look at what you can still do to manage your business’ daily operations, employees, and finances.

How to continue business during the coronavirus outbreak

Continuing business during the coronavirus outbreak may still be possible — but will require you to implement new work arrangements or apply extra protective measures to keep customers and employees safe.

1. Keep in clear communication with your employees.

Transparent communication with employees is crucial. The more your employees know about your expectations and intentions, the better equipped they are to prepare.
Create an email account specifically for coronavirus-related queries and communications. Provide scheduled updates on how you plan to tackle day-to-day operations – whether online or offline.

If your employees are now working from home, make sure that they have the necessary log in access to various work-related software. Given the current circumstances, a play-it-by-ear approach is entirely understandable. But keep your team in the know with frequent updates.

2. Set up direct deposit for all employees.

While it is not the majority, it is not uncommon to see that there are still some companies or employees who choose to receive their pay through physical cheques. Shifting payroll from paper cheques to direct deposit eliminates the need for employees to pick up paychecks in person. You can set up direct deposit through your business bank account provider or payroll software.

Collect the necessary banking information from your employees, including their bank account type, number and the branch code/number of their financial institution. After you submit their information to your direct deposit provider, all that’s left is setting up a payroll schedule and completing your provider’s authorisation process.

3. Set up work from home arrangements

With the closure of workplace premises, many companies have implemented work-from-home (WFH) arrangements where possible. If your business has yet to get employees started on home-based working, find out how you can maximise WFH efficiency as soon as possible. Check if your employees have their own computer and an Internet connection. If not, consider renting IT equipment for your staff.

4. Come up with ways to continue serving your customers.

Does your business rely on in-person sales? Consider selling online. A number of merchant services providers like BigCommerce and Shopify offer e-commerce store building software. You don’t need to be tech-savvy to set up your website, as most providers offer beginner-friendly website themes. You can even integrate your online store with your social media accounts for omnichannel marketing.

5. Strategise the best ways to keep your business running.

Business operations during a global pandemic are all about managing risk. And while it may be tempting to forge ahead with a business-as-usual attitude, the health of your employees and that of the greater community needs to come first. If your business falls under essential services, make sure that your staff wear sufficient protective garments such as face masks, hand gloves and even goggles to keep them safe.

What are the government support available for businesses?

In light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Singapore government has introduced a series of relief measures to help businesses and individuals to ease their cash flow.

Released in three budgets (termed as Unity, Resilience and Solidarity) totalling $60 billion, here are the various ways that the government is helping to protect the economy and jobs:

  • Deferment of income tax payments. Companies and SEPs will be allowed to defer tax obligations for 3 months, which will be in June and July 2020 respectively.
  • Deferment of principal payments on secured SME loans. Customers may apply to defer principal payments on their secured terms loans up to 31 December 2020 as well as extend the tenure of their loans.
  • Enterprise Financing Scheme (EFS). The EFS is designed to help local enterprises gain financing to expand their businesses. In the event of enterprise insolvency, Enterprise Singapore will share the loan default risk, which is currently 90% as part of the measures included in the Solidarity budget.
    • EFS-SME Working Capital Loan. Maximum loan quantum of EFS-SME Working Capital Loan is raised to $1m.
    • EFS-Trade Loan. Maximum loan quantum is bumped up to $10m.
    • Temporary bridging loan program. From 1st April 2020, eligible enterprises may borrow up to $5 million to sustain cashflow during this difficult time. Interest rate capped at 5% p.a.
  • Loan insurance scheme. Subsidies for loan insurance premiums are increased to 80%.
  • No increase in government fees and charges. There’ll be no increment from existing government fees and charges for 1 year, from 1 April 2020 till 31 March 2021.
  • Enhanced rental waiver. To help reduce the losses of businesses, hawkers are entitled to 3 months rental waiver. Commercial and other non-residential tenants in government properties may be entitled up to 2 months rental waiver.
  • Enhanced property tax rebate. Property tax rebates are increased to 100% for qualifying commercial properties, 60% for integrated resorts and 30% for all other non-residential properties.
  • Income tax rebate for YA2020. Receive 25% of tax payable (capped at $15,000 per company).
  • Enhanced job support scheme (JSS). The government will pay 75% on the first $4,600 of monthly wages for every local employee for April 2020. From May 2020, wage support levels will revert to original levels stated in the Resilience budget, which is 75% for aviation and tourism sector, 50% for food and services sector and 25% for all other sectors.
  • Cashflow and credit support for employers. The monthly foreign worker levy (FWL) due in April 2020 will be waived. The government is also providing a $750 FWL rebate in April 2020 for levies paid this year, for each work permit and S Pass holder. In addition, all office, industrial, and agriculture tenants of government agencies are entitled to a 1-month rental waiver.

How can I set my employees up to work from home?

For a smooth transition from in-person operations to an at-home workforce, consider implementing these strategies and tools:

  • Communication software. Shift company communications to an online workspace with the help of communication software like Slack, Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
  • Established desk hours. Set a daily schedule and structured desk hours to help remote workers establish a routine — but keep in mind that some staff members may be trying to balance child care while keeping up with work responsibilities.
  • Schedule daily check-ins. Help your team stay connected and up to speed with team check-ins, conference calls and virtual town halls through Skype or Zoom.
  • Explore business apps. Review your business app options to streamline operations as your team works from home.

What to do if your business stays open

If your business classifies as essential services and is still open amid the COVID-19 crisis, take proactive measures to keep employees and customers safe:

  • Disinfect daily. Regularly disinfect high-traffic areas and surfaces, like doorknobs, tables, desks, light switches, keyboards and telephones.
  • Remind employees to practice good hygiene. Make soap and hand sanitizer available while encouraging staff to routinely clean their hands and avoid touching their face.
  • Avoid handling cash. Request that your customers use non-contact payment methods, like paywave or online transfers.
  • Open the windows. Consider increasing ventilation by opening windows.
  • Limit in-person meetings. Cancel all nonessential face-to-face chats.
  • Refrain from handshakes. Ask employees and customers to opt for noncontact greeting methods, like hand waves or head nods.
  • Communicate with customers. Let your customers know how your business plans to conduct itself, including expected hours of operation and updated sanitization protocols.

Should I close my business?

According to PM Lee Hsien Loong’s address to the nation on 3 April 2020, all workplace premises with the exception of essential services and key economic sectors will have to close from 7 April to 4 March.

Depending on the nature of your business, it may be restricted or allowed to remain open. Remember that if you are able to close your business or move operations online or off-premises, you should do so to lower the risk of transmission. Even if regulations don’t demand it, you can help limit the spread.

Guidelines and regulations are constantly evolving as the pandemic unfolds, but here is the current list of restrictions on businesses. For some of those in the banned or closed category, we’ve listed some ideas for how they can keep operating while closed.

Banned or closed

  • Registered and licensed clubs, licensed premises in hotels and pubs, casinos and nightclubs. Consider utilising takeaway options with services such as Deliveroo or GrabFood.
  • Cinemas and entertainment venues. Try online streaming sessions or ticket donations.
  • Auctions and open house inspections. Use virtual inspection software. Or virtual auctions via YouTube, Facebook Live, or other streaming platforms.
  • Personal services such as beauty therapy, tanning, massage and tattoo parlours (but not physiotherapy).
  • Outdoor and indoor markets. Opt for takeaway or delivery services instead.
  • Amusement parks and arcades, and indoor and outdoor play centres.
  • Galleries, museums, libraries and swimming pools.
  • Gyms and indoor sports venues. Many providers are offering: live stream workouts or fitness programmes; telehealth consultations; pre-recorded content for members.
  • Overseas travel. Singaporeans are advised to defer all travel abroad.


  • Restaurants and cafes. Dine-ins are no longer allowed. F&B establishments can only offer delivery and takeaway options.
  • Weddings. Like other events, there should be no gatherings involving more than 10 people.
  • Funerals. According to the Ministry of Health’s guidelines, attendance at funerals and wakes should be limited to 10 or fewer people at any one time.
  • Visits to houses. Contact is only limited to immediate family members. You’re not allowed to visit friends or relatives for private social gatherings.

Remaining open

  • Shopping centres and other shops that are allowed to operate. You can purchase most of your daily necessities at your nearest mall, which will be open (limited entry depending on circumstances) for access to supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies, pet supplies and other essential services.
  • Medical centres. Most of the health sector will remain open. This includes all acute and community hospitals, policlinics, TCM clinics and urgent dental services. Social services for the elderly, special needs and other vulnerable groups will also operate as usual.
  • Pharmacies. All pharmacies will be opened unless stated otherwise.
  • Hairdressers and barbers. These fall under selected services required for daily living, so they’ll continue to operate.
  • Veterinary services. Animal clinics will remain fully operational to maintain the health of your pets.

How can I help my employees?

Remaining flexible and responsive can help your employees feel supported during the coronavirus outbreak. Employees may need to tend to their children or support a loved one in a high-risk group. Clarify your company’s sick-leave policies and prepare to deal with questions and requests.

The Ministry of Health has advised that if someone feels sick or has a sick family member at home, they should self-quarantine to lessen the risk of potential infection. Let your employees know what coronavirus financial assistance programmes exist to help them cope, such as those included in the government’s COVID-19 stimulus package

    Will my business insurance cover lost income?

    Businesses that hold business interruption insurance might assume lost income as a result of the outbreak is by their policy. But here’s the problem: Business interruption insurance is an extension of property insurance designed to cover property damage after a natural disaster. And the current COVID-19 pandemic may not qualify.

    After the SARS outbreak in 2003, many providers began to exclude epidemics and pandemics from their business insurance coverage. Read our guide on insurance during the coronavirus outbreak for more information. You should also ask your insurance provider about your coverage and whether lost income as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak qualifies.

    Is it too late to get business insurance?

    While it’s not too late to get coverage and many providers allow you to submit applications online, it may be difficult to find a provider willing to cover lost income as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Many businesses across Singapore are in the same situation and are seeking support for business insurance providers. You may be better off pursuing a government or private financing or relief option instead.

    Bottom line

    Businesses can navigate the COVID-19 outbreak by planning ahead, using resources and taking a proactive attitude. Stay up to date on the latest COVID-19 developments through our coronavirus hub.

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