James Wood, regional security director, International SOS
For many companies, the pandemic has irrevocably changed the way in which employees live, work and travel, with some organisations introducing formal – or informal – 'work from anywhere' policies.
These new working patterns are undoubtedly here to stay but it’s important to consider what the risks and challenges of such arrangements are. For example, are digital nomads particularly vulnerable to certain hazards? What kind of responsibility do organisations that offer these policies have regarding remote workers? And what are the contractual, tax and insurance implications?
Questions like these are vital when it comes to understanding how organisations will maintain their duty of care responsibilities, as this field has experienced a shift in thinking in recent years. Since the pandemic the lines between work and social life have often become blurred as the home now has a function in both of these worlds.
The ‘traditional’ boundaries of organisational duty of care responsibilities have also expanded with this shift. This makes it all the more necessary for businesses to put protections in place to ensure remote workers are properly supported when away from traditional organisational infrastructure.
Working in Barbados for a UK-based company may sound idyllic on paper but there are risks involved. Engaging third-party experts can often be a useful shortcut for understanding the risk environment of the locations remote workers are operating within. For instance, every country has a specific security and medical risk, often with regional variation.
Some organisations may not have access to data on the regional specificities of the countries in which their employees are now located – information that can be essential when it comes to successfully implementing a ‘work from anywhere’ policy.
Mental health support is also an important part of the story. We are now seeing more business leaders take this issue seriously – another trend triggered, in part, by the pandemic. This means that decision-makers within organisations should be encouraged to carefully consider how remotely located employees are supported from a mental health perspective.
Data from the most recent International SOS Risk Outlook report highlights that 49 per cent of experts predict that remote/hybrid working is having some impact on the ability of businesses to provide mental health support.
This doesn’t necessarily mean remote workers are more likely to experience mental health issues, but organisations certainly should be aware that they need to implement a tailored programme for employees working away from the traditional workplace. For example, this might involve access to more sophisticated evidence-based digital mental health support tools, such as the KOA Foundations app.
In addition to this, and at a practical level, organisations may want to implement a tiered approval process when considering the locations they’re allowing employees to travel to and work in. This can ensure that employees across multiple functions are involved in the approval process for remote working.
In addition to the often complex legal and establishment risks, security managers may need to consider the safety risks of relocating to certain locations. The health advisor (or equivalent executive) can consider if the local medical infrastructure meets an acceptable level, especially if families might be relocating, or if ongoing complex medical needs might be a consideration. Risk managers may need to assess if the location is particularly vulnerable to climate or cyber risk. And HR staff may request to perform a workstation assessment to ensure employees are safe in their new temporary home. This kind of interorganisational collaboration will mean a thorough risk assessment is conducted, ensuring that both flexibility and safety are prioritised at the same time.
This links to another important point: duty of loyalty. The safety of remote employees and digital nomads is a two-way interaction. As employees gain greater autonomy over their working arrangements, they do also bear some of the responsibility for their own safety.
Organisations could look to develop a robust code of conduct to help with this, including agreed upon guidelines for remote working. All of this should be developed with the consent of relevant employees to make sure they aren’t putting themselves in potentially risky situations.
This strategy can help organisations implement a flexible system which is also realistic in terms of the risk appetite of both employees and the wider organisation.
Keeping remote workers safe is crucial in today's ever-evolving work environment. Employers and employees alike should understand that remote work is not just a perk, but an evolving responsibility that requires adequate support and protection.
Providing ergonomic support, mental health resources, and clear communication channels can help remote workers feel more connected and engaged, boosting productivity and overall wellbeing. Ultimately, a safe and healthy remote workforce is a win-win situation for both employers and employees, as it leads to improved morale, reduced turnover rates, and increased success in achieving business goals.