At first glance, the mobile revolution seems like good news for everyone. Businesses with mobile workers can expect a dramatic 64% uplift in productivity, while also slashing operational costs by 20%. The news isn’t bad for employees either, who benefit from greater flexibility in when and how they work. Staff can function on-the-go, anytime and anywhere with seamless access to all the business resources they need, driving an estimated 60% improvement in their work/life balance.i
However, as workplaces open their arms to this influx of mobiles, tablets and phablets, employers need to ask if there are any risks on the horizon. Mobile and remote working has a huge impact on traditional business practices and employers need to be aware of the implications. Opening the door to a flexible, 24/7 business culture will make it far more common for staff to work outside the office, alone or at unusual hours. While this can bring huge business benefits, it can also make some employees more vulnerable.
The government may have just introduced new regulations to promote flexible working, but one piece of legislation that hasn’t changed is The Health and Safety at Work Act; every UK employer has a legal and moral obligation to “the health, safety and welfare…of all their workers”.ii Ignore these demands at your peril: the Health & Safety Executive puts the cost of simply managing and investigating a serious incident at up to £19,000iii not including potential legal costs and fines.
With the arrival of mobile working, there’s no reason for employees to be tied to the office - meaning staff will increasingly face periods when no support is available and their environment is unpredictable. The potential dangers facing mobile workers can be as many and varied as the industries in which they’re employed; some of the common risks include more frequent travel, working from remote locations and visiting clients alone.
It’s time for employers to ask themselves some hard questions. Would the Head Office know if an employee was injured while working off-site? Could a rapid response be coordinated if a lone staff member suffered a medical emergency on the way to a client meeting? Would the alarm be raised if an employee travelling for business failed to check-in on time?
To meet challenges like these and ensure mobile working remains only good news for businesses, employers must bring together the right people, processes and technology to safeguard staff:
- People: Encourage all employees to see safety as their responsibility. Remind staff to keep colleagues updated on their whereabouts and to check-in regularly when working alone. Ensure managers and supervisors have the tools they need to monitor safety policies, procedures and training on a continuous basis.
- Processes: Comprehensive training and clear policies are essential to help mobile workers assess risks, take precautions and know what to do if a dangerous or uncomfortable situation occurs. You should also conduct on-going risk assessments, encourage employees to schedule safety meetings to voice issues, and thoroughly review any incidents or near misses for insights that can prevent them from happening again.
- Technology: Mobile may raise new challenges for both employers and employees, but it also offers potential solutions. Businesses can cost-effectively improve safety by using the very phones employees already own. Mobile applications can now support staff with easy-to-use GPS location tracking, automated check-ins and dedicated panic alarms – helping every business be more alert to problems and coordinate a rapid response when necessary.
- Vodafone, The value of mobile abroad, 2013: https://enterprise.vodafone.com/insight_news/2013-12-18-the-trends-shaping-mobile-working-abroad-infographic.jsp
- HSE, Working Alone, 2013: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg73.pdf
- HSE statistic quoted in Land Mobile, Changing Backdrop to Working Alone, 2011, p.17: http://content.yudu.com/Library/A1tjcx/LandMobileAugust2011/resources/21.htm