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(Back to Normal) S. Korean companies brace for return to office life after pandemic

All News 08:00 April 17, 2022

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, April 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korean companies are preparing for a post-pandemic office life in line with the decision by the government to remove more than two years of virus-related restrictions.

Starting Monday, limits on social gatherings and business operations will be gone while the mask mandate will remain in place, as the government concluded the omicron-driven COVID-19 pandemic has entered a more manageable stage, and that such limits have caused too much financial pain.

Large conglomerates have already begun to dial back their in-house social distancing rules, considering the apparent retreat of the omicron wave.

Earlier this month, steel giant POSCO ended its remote working policy in its Seoul office following the government's relaxed social distancing rules.

Office workers go to have lunch in Seoul on April 12, 2022. (Yonhap)

The steelmaker maintained some precautionary measures, like exempting immunocompromised workers, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions from the rules.

To reduce crowding, the company put in place flexible working hours and the "smart office" system where workers do not necessarily go to their office and work from the nearest office branch instead.

Hyundai Motor Co. and its affiliate Kia Corp. relaxed their policies on domestic business trips, trainings and meetings, while maintaining their remote working policy at 50 percent or more. They no longer require business travelers to get vaccinated.

Streets bustle with office workers during lunch hours in Seoul on April 4, 2022. (Yonhap)

Samsung Electronics Co. last Monday also joined the corporate move to roll back health protocols meant to mitigate coronavirus transmission.

The tech giant fully permitted business trips at home and abroad and started to run commuter buses and corporate helicopters again.

The company, however, capped company lunches and after-hour dinners at a maximum of 10 people, while permitting gatherings of less than 300 employees.

Samsung also maintained the policy of indoor capacity limit of 50 percent and remote working at the maximum of 50 percent of its workforce.

A Samsung spokesman said no decision has been made as to whether it could further relax its health guidelines.

Streets bustle with people in Bangi-dong, eastern Seoul, on April 4, 2022. (Yonhap)

Office workers showed mixed responses to a return to the pre-pandemic office life with more rigid workplace, back-to-back meetings and long commutes.

Woo Jin-wook, a tax lawyer from Seoul, said he was "looking forward to" having more interactions with colleagues and after-hour dinners.

"We haven't had office meals for more than two years now and I have always felt disconnected and too business-like with my colleagues," he said.

"It would be great to hang out with them again to better understand each other."

An office worker working at entertainment giant CJ ENM, who asked not to be named, said she dreaded the return to the office.

She preferred working remotely, saying "Being in the office does not necessarily mean greater productivity."

"By working remote, I can save time and money on commuting," she said. "Plus, it is not like the virus disappeared for good."


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