How to protect the safety, health and wellbeing of your colleagues who work remotely

How to protect the safety, health and wellbeing of your colleagues who work remotely

27th April 2022, 11:12 am

Many organisations are now having to balance the health and wellbeing of their employees, with the need to grow profitable businesses. This has brought many challenges, as expectations increase for flexible working arrangements, often a mix of office time and working from home.

How do you ensure that you maintain a happy and healthy workforce, whilst ensuring your business can still flourish and go beyond the minimum requirements of health and safety law?

Ian Hutchings, Managing Director, Vita Safety, shares Vita Safety’s top tips and considerations for managing remote workers, based on experience, global good practice and client projects.

Vita Safety offers a range of retained health and safety advisory services for all sizes of employer.

Is remote work a realistic option?

We don’t all live in houses with gardens, an office, or adequate space to work. As well as the right thing to do, as an employer you need to ensure that your teams have adequate arrangements to happily and productively work from home. HSE guidance sets out the minimum considerations if a home is to be considered a place of work >

Working from home or hybrid working, will also need to be considered in contracts of employment.

It’s not just about a decent desk and chair.

Working time and work organisation

Research has shown that employees working remotely or from home have a tendency to work longer hours than when working from an employer’s premises, partly because time taken to commute to the workplace is replaced with work activities, and partly due to changes in routine and blurred boundaries between home and work life. Working from home can also lead to working more into the evenings and weekends. To alleviate this, it is important to set management practices which include prioritisation of workload, tasks and realistic deadlines. You should involve your employees in discussions about what is appropriate, bearing in mind their personal circumstances.

Performance management

One of the most significant sources of stress for any manager of a remote team is to maintain team performance and fulfil commitments to stakeholders. To be effective, remote working needs to be based on communication and co-operation between workers and managers.

Managers need to be clear about expected results and timelines, reducing ambiguity and allowing workers to work within their own personal circumstances with autonomy. Managers need to be able to identify what good performance looks like, when things aren’t going so well and provide regular, informative feedback to workers. Performance is best managed using video-enabled calls to enable subtle non-verbal communication to emerge.

Benefiting from technology as a tool not a hindrance

In the context of the workplace, digitalisation refers to the increased presence and use of cloud computing and scheduling tools, as well as web-based applications across different platforms to facilitate remote access and collaborative work. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the pace of digitalisation has quickened, leading to increased opportunities for working remotely and from home.

As well as simply providing phones, laptops and IT, the broader considerations and potential stressors need to be part of your risk assessment. Consider adequacy of wifi bandwidth/location, training and awareness of software. Do you need to provide additional budget for upgrades to IT and broadband services?

You may have very differing levels of IT and software know-how, but expect the same outputs. Consider if stress may be exacerbated through the digital applications and what additional support your teams may need, including their input in the buying process.


Remote and home workers are at risk of isolation, which can lead to poor mental health. Communication between colleagues, managers and the business as a whole is important to ensure remote and home workers have a feeling of belonging and inclusion. It is worth exploring how teams prefer to be communicated with and how often. Health and wellbeing policies will often include a range of preventative and reactive measures for issues that arise, but often may not cover appropriate communication.

Do you have a policy or guidance note shared with your team on acceptable email use? When and how it is appropriate to use email and when other methods of communication may help.

Occupational safety and health – risk assessment

If you employ more than four people in the UK you have a legal duty to appoint one or more persons, known as a competent person, to assist you with meeting your health and safety legal duties as an employer. You should work closely with your advisor to ensure that there is a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for those working remotely. In addition to the obvious risks, such as workspace, ergonomics, electrical safety, workstation set up, your assessment needs to embody other factors already covered within the top tips above. New and expectant mothers must have a risk assessment completed and reviewed each trimester (whether working remotely or not). You must consider other colleagues with conditions or illnesses that may impact working remotely, ergonomics and posture. Specialist advice will often be needed to advise you on what actions you must take.

Be proactive in considering stress

Try not to be an employer that buries their head in the sand about the subject of stress.

You do need to risk assess stress as a potential hazard for your teams and have a documented approach to ensure that stressors are identified and adequately managed.

In particular, we recommend using an organisational stress risk assessment template and process in line with HSE standards and guidance.

Fostering open and honest communication about the reality of life’s stresses and if someone is struggling with their work or home life, is more likely to mean people with raise issues before they become significant problems.

Effective Training

Training a remote and home working workforce has its particular challenges. Organisations need to acknowledge that old ways of training, such as classroom based learning, may need to be reassessed to accommodate those working remotely or at home. Online training has its advantages, being easily accessible and flexible, but keeping colleagues motivating during online training, usually on their own without engagement with other colleagues, can be difficult to manage. Capturing training needs are essential in ensuring colleagues have the right level of understanding and knowledge to do their jobs and equally important, evidence that training has taken place needs to be captured.

The training needs of managers and team members will have changed in recent years, with increasing digitalisation and remote working. If you expect directors and managers to lead on health and safety, they do need to be competent to do so.

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