Home alone

There are benefits to both employers and employees to a home working arrangement. For the employee it offers more flexibility to fit around family commitments; for the employer it reduces office costs and often also reduces downtime. Many home-based workers appreciate their freedom and are more than willing to be flexible in return by putting in the occasional extra hours and, often, if they’re suffering from a cold may work for part of the day when they feel up to it, whereas they probably wouldn’t trek in to work if office-based. The recent weather has probably made a few companies think more seriously about the benefits of having remote workers who can continue to work at home!

However, these are not the only people who work alone. Others who work alone can include:

  • Drivers – both long distance and local delivery people
  • Sales people
  • Postmen and postwomen
  • Repair and maintenance people
  • Cleaners
  • Caretakers
  • Anyone who works in a lone office or stays behind alone to work after office hours.
  • And these are just a few – there are many situations where people work alone.

    These people can’t simply be left ‘to get on with it’ – working alone poses issues that every employer must address. As an employer have you checked that:

  • The work location is suitable for the purpose – and that it has been risk assessed?
  • The lone worker has the knowledge, experience, personal attributes and training to carry out their duties – in the same way that their work-based colleagues do?
  • There is a means of establishing that their competence has reached a level that allows them to operate safely and effectively alone?
  • There is some means of supervision? Abdication of supervision is not an option.
  • The potential problems of lone working have been discussed with the person concerned and their personal attributes meet the requirements of their working situation?
  • There is a means of critical incident checking? If they don’t check in or report back at agreed points, it could mean there is a problem and that must be investigated.
  • Fortunately, today’s technology allows contact to be much easier than it has been in the past, with mobile phones, email and even webcams. Remote workers can be included in meetings using web-based virtual meeting rooms and checking in is a simple matter of a phone call or text message. That doesn’t mean that the employee should be expected to ‘let us know if you have a problem’, a proper system should be established.

    Part of the work we carried out for a client involved putting exactly this kind of process into place for two man teams installing satellite dishes in the jungle in Borneo. The system was set up like a flight plan – we knew what time they left the hotel, what time they arrived at the communication points, what the expected communication would be and what time they were expected back. If anything fell outside those parameters the company would, quite literally, send out the search parties! The system meant that they knew exactly where to look and wasted no time in finding them.

    This duty of care in relation to lone workers applies for employees, contractors, volunteers, – in fact, anyone who is carrying out duties for your organisation. Out of sight should never be out of mind.