Back To Top

Coronavirus changes South Korean workplace landscape

Samsung, SK, LG, SK, KT, CJ, Kakao allow flexible working hours, remote work 

Thermal sensing cameras installed at the entrance of a building to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (Yonhap)
Thermal sensing cameras installed at the entrance of a building to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (Yonhap)


The new coronavirus outbreak has led to drastic changes in South Korea’s workplace culture, albeit temporarily.

Many major companies are letting their employees work from home or have flexible working hours after the government raised the alert level to “serious” and the number of cases here surged.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the number of confirmed COVID-19 patients stood at 977, up 84 from 10 a.m., while the death toll stood at 10.

The nation’s largest conglomerate Samsung Group decided Monday to allow pregnant employees to work from home and delivered the information to each affiliate through its personnel teams. In the case of Samsung Electronics’ Gumi plants, which were suspended after a confirmed infection case, the firm ordered employees to telecommute from Monday for seven days.

LG Group said Tuesday it has allowed pregnant employees to work remotely for the period needed. It also permitted employees to work at home in case they need to take care of their young children because of delays in the opening of kindergartens and elementary schools. The group has introduced a flexible commuting system to minimize the use of public transportation during rush hours.

SK Group was the first conglomerate that allowed all of its employees to work at home for up to two weeks. The group said all employees at its six units -- including SK Holdings, SK Telecom, SK Innovation, SK E&S, SK Networks Company and SK Siltron -- will telework, except for a few necessary personnel.

Telecom giant KT too has decided to allow employees to telecommute on a rotating basis until March 6.

The nation’s largest automaker Hyundai Motor has restricted outsiders from entering its headquarters in Seoul. When employees enter the office, they need to go through thermal imaging cameras. The security guards check the temperature of anyone who enters.

Meanwhile, CJ Group has decided to suspend collective training, in-house events and gatherings till the end of March. It has expanded a flexible working hour system to allow workers to avoid public transportation during rush hours.

The six conglomerates take up a large pie in the employment market, with the number of workers, while scattered across affiliates, subsidiaries and plants -- nearing 563,000 as of August last year, according to statistics provided by Chaebol.com and CEOScore. Samsung Group, for instance, employs 194,348, while LG hires 119,021 and SK has 47,698.

After a COVID-19 patient was found at LS Yongsan Tower in Seoul on Monday, the building was closed for disinfection. The next day, the employees of LS Group affiliates as well as Amorepacific, whose building is located next to LS Yongsan Tower, were ordered to telecommute. Some 4,000 employees work at LS and some 3,500 at Amorepacific.

Also, e-commerce firms, including Coupang, WeMakePrice and Tmon, and global software firms, such as Intel, Dell and Microsoft, have all advised their employees to work from home.

Later in the day, internet firm Kakao said it has also ordered all employees to work from home from Wednesday. Naver will also switch to the remote work system of all employees from Wednesday to Friday.

Most large companies, including LG, SK, Hyundai Motor, Hanwha, Lotte, Posco, CJ and KT, have temporarily halted operations of press rooms within their buildings.

The Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry recommended about 180,000 member companies to work at home to prevent the virus spread, mostly when people use public transportation.

On Monday, Labor Minister Lee Jae-kap urged companies to “use flexible working hour systems and remote work systems” to reduce the possibility of spreading the virus during rush hours.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)

MOST POPULAR