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Remote workers

Managing remote workers

Managing the occupational safety and health (OSH) of remote and distributed workers is challenging, primarily because of the reduced opportunities for face-to-face contact. With many workers continuing to operate remotely, it is important to provide updated advice on how to separate work from home lives and to allow for some flexibility.

Lone working can lead to feelings of isolation, which can be stressful. Despite the rollout of vaccination programmes across the world, workers may still have acute concerns about their own health or feel generally anxious or fearful.

They may also have concerns about what to do if they become ill while working at home or feel anxious about plans for returning to the physical workplace.

Therefore, it remains important for line managers to keep in regular contact with their workers and for regular team meetings to be carried out. Senior managers and line managers should continue to keep track of Covid-19 updates via government and health authorities and keep their workers updated on any developments.

Depending on the extent of national or regional restrictions, workers may also be caring for relatives and children alongside their existing workload, so negotiating a ‘lifestyle arrangement’, or agreeing to rules around hours of working, shows that you are empathetic to the needs of your employees.

If a worker has the virus, you should keep up to date with the stage they are at and the measures they are personally taking to self-isolate. On returning to work, it is important to be mindful of the worker’s health if they continue to have symptoms which impact their wellbeing and productivity.

Prioritise and control workloads and deadlines 

When working remotely, it can be difficult to keep track of what is expected of you. Some projects may be brought to the forefront in terms of prioritisation, while other workstreams may be put on hold.

It is important when engaging with remote workers that you:

  • Provide varied tasks - try to offer some variety of work to allow dynamic thinking and working. This will help to provide fresh cognitive challenges and allow workers to feel stimulated, motivated and productive
  • Prioritise workstreams – make it clear which workstreams are the priority, and which work can be de-prioritised temporarily. This will help workers focus on the tasks that matter most to the organisation and prevent them from feeling overwhelmed
  • Allow flexibility — allow workers to take extra rest breaks if required and to address other concerns or issues alongside their remote working, such as childcare commitments. Ensure that work deadlines and timescales are reasonable. This will help to reduce stress.

The challenges

Limited face-to-face contact with distributed and home workers makes it difficult to assess how well OSH practices are being carried out. Reduced access to organisational information also means that it is difficult for workers to stay familiar with OSH practices and procedures. Multiple or moving working locations can make it challenging to predict and control risks faced by workers.

In the case of Covid-19, many workers and organisations have faced uncertainty and this can have a negative effect on workers’ health, safety and wellbeing. Managing workforces remotely requires strong communication, effective use of technology and a requirement for flexible working.

Communicating with workers 

It is important to establish strong lines of communication with workers, particularly during extended periods of remote working. This is essential for organisations of any size.

There will also be uncertainty around terms of employment and how stable people’s jobs are in challenging markets. When communicating with workers, it is important to take opportunities to show continued transparency around how your company is managing its finances to ensure workers’ jobs are protected. This can help to keep workers motivated and helps them feel supported during difficult times.

Ensuring workers feel supported and have access to important information helps to maintain business continuity and reduces disruption to business processes.

It is important to:

  • Keep in regular contact with remote workers — this will help to avoid feelings of isolation and loneliness. It’s a good way to ensure that workers are well and that they understand information and instructions presented to them
  • Communicate the organisational plan — be open and honest with all workers and ensure clarity. Explain what the organisation is doing to help protect its workers, their families and friends, and the organisation itself
  • Use varied methods of communication —this can include teleconference-based applications, which introduce a visual human interface but can also include telephone, email or applications such as WhatsApp
  • Use social distancing for groups of people — during extreme situations such as Covid-19, workers will need to conduct virtual meetings rather than meet face-to-face to prevent further spread. In rare circumstances where face-to-face meetings need to occur, it is important to follow any government advice on social distancing
  • Provide disability support — ensure that coaching support and remote-based organisation still takes place for those who require additional support. Encourage workers to send photographs to highlight any potential issues or adjustment queries
  • Set boundaries between working and non-working hours — allow workers to disengage from work when they are required to. This can involve agreeing varied or flexible working hours with workers. Avoid sending communications during these rest periods unless it is an absolute necessity. This will allow workers to continue a healthier work-life balance
  • Encourage workers to discuss wellbeing/mental ill-health concerns — this can help to alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety and prevent them from worsening. It also gives managers the opportunity to adopt preventative measures.

Key questions for senior leadership teams 

In ‘normal times’, the senior leadership team will focus on issues such as work culture, employee engagement and delivery of corporate strategy. The Covid-19 outbreak has presented new challenges to executives in all areas of strategic leadership.

Workplaces need to ensure they are engaging with employees in a positive, transparent way and are providing regular updates on organisational objectives and key priorities.

Areas of focus should include:

  • Work culture - how is your workplace embedding a strong safety and health culture within the workforce?
  • Employee engagement - how are you going to ensure you continue to engage and communicate with employees while they are working away from the office?
  • Managing health and wellbeing - how can you take measures to protect the mental health and wellbeing of workers while they are working remotely?

When managing OSH practices for remote workers, senior leaders should also consider:

  • Which existing OSH practices in your business can be modified to account for significant and sudden changes in work environment?
  • What bespoke OSH practices can be embedded swiftly to ensure the safety and health of newly distributed workers?

Advice for line managers

If you are a line manager, your workers will be looking to you for clarity, support and guidance. It is important you make yourself available throughout the day for colleagues to check in with you at regular intervals. You should provide:

  1. Competent and motivational leadership – this reassures distributed workers during an unpredictable period of their working lives
  2. Regular and clear communication – this needs to be from both line managers and OSH professionals to workers – and vice versa; it helps to maintain company culture and practices while working remotely 
  3. Straightforward and adaptable procedures – these provide workers with structure in an unprecedented working environment 
  4. Up-to-date and easily available resources – this equips workers at a time when clear information is needed 
  5. Establish monitoring and reporting systems – this helps to both protect and empower workers. 

The role of the safety and health professional 

During challenging situations, OSH professionals are well-placed to provide advice and guidance within organisations and influence senior leaders on how to protect the safety, health and wellbeing of workers.

OSH professionals can also provide information and advice on general health and safety hazards which need to be considered. For example, workers should be mindful of the need for suitable access to the room they are working in and they should make efforts to ensure good standards of hygiene are maintained.

Housekeeping, including maintaining adequate lighting, being sure to remove trailing leads and not use the floor or high shelves for storage, can also reduce health and safety risks in the home. 

Sheds, garages, attics and cellars are not a preferred working area due to the work environment and risk of security. They tend to have limited access, poor temperatures and ventilation control and a lack of natural light.

A separate room or workspace, if possible, is the best option to prevent physical intrusions, domestic distractions and interruptions in the home. If this isn’t possible, workers should ensure they set up their desks appropriately.

Conducting home working assessments 

Organisations can train their workers to undertake their own workstation assessments and let managers and OSH advisors know if there are any issues. It is important to ask remote workers to carry out a checklist, or take a photo of their workstation, so that managers can talk them through the process of how to ensure their working space is adequate. 

It is important to remember that some workers may find it difficult to adapt to working in an environment with limited social contact, while others may find it harder to manage their time or to separate work from home life. It is essential that managers provide frequent updates and regularly communicate with workers so that they are made aware of any potential issues as soon as possible and can find practical solutions to them.

Checklist for organisations

Here is a checklist for organisations to use to think about the health and safety risks of their workers. You can also download the checklist to complete at home

(keep a record of the workers working remotely, for example):

Name of worker:


Comments/ any actions required

Actions done

When they are working?



What they are working on?



How are they being monitored and communicated with?



Do the direct / line managers understand their responsibilities for the health and safety of remote workers under their control?



Are there arrangements in place for providing remote workers with information, instructions and training?



Are there standards or policies covering people working remotely, if so, have they received this information?



Are there arrangements in place for maintaining workers work equipment considering the needs of the worker?



Are arrangements in place for monitoring the health and safety of the remote workers?



Assessing the workstations remotely



Has the organisation providing work equipment which takes into account the home environment



Have workers been given guidance on how to set up a computer workstation ergonomically?



Have arrangements been made for controlling issues around lone working, stress and general mental health?



For further advice, Safer and healthier teleworking: Advice and techniques is a course IOSH developed in collaboration with the World Health Organization to guide workers, managers and OSH professionals.

Our research, Out of sight, out of mind?, also generated a toolkit to support those who manage the health and safety of distributed/remote workers.