Chapter 2

Lone Workers are the Future

March 28, 2020

As we discussed in the last chapter, the labour of lone workers has supported society for millenia. Some of the jobs have changed over the years, but at its core, lone working is required to keep some of society’s most foundational institutions and functions running.

It’s been estimated that lone workers make up between 6-8 million workers in the UK alone. That’s about 20% of the population. This means almost every company needs to understand the best practices of protecting their lone workers.

In recent years, new lone worker positions have been created. In this chapter, we’ll consider how the future of lone working is evolving because of widespread use of the internet, machine learning, and automation.

Automation Increases Lone Worker Positions

There’s a lot of talk these days about the possible impact of automation on certain jobs—and even entire industries. Many are asking: Will jobs that were historically performed by people soon be automated? The fact is, it’s already happening in many industries, but this isn’t all bad news for lone workers.

There’s another side of automation that receives less attention. Automation also makes certain jobs possible for one person that used to require a team. In other words, automation is fueling the global growth of lone workers.

Automation is increasing the number of lone workers roles across the UK and world. But automation shouldn’t always be confused as replacing human labour. Often, automation simply amplifies the individual abilities of every employee.

As The Harvard Business Review puts it, “firms achieve the most significant performance improvements when humans and machines work together… humans and AI actively enhance each other’s complementary strengths.”

Work from Home Trends

Another growing lone worker trend: companies letting their employees work from their homes.

As innovation enables more people to work from their computers, opportunities to work from home become more common. This enables greater flexibility, but it also raises new challenges and risks. For example, most burglaries occur during the middle of the day when houses have historically been empty. But in the work-from-home movement, burglars are now more likely to break into a home while you’re there.

Productivity Gains

In many cases, lone working can actually increase productivity for certain roles. Whether it’s eliminating water-cooler talk or commute times by letting employees work from home or enabling workers to focus on deep work outside the distractions of a busy office, many see the work-from-home trend as a new norm.

In the knowledge work sector, which is loosely defined as people who can work entirely from their computers, as many as 74% of employees would be willing to quit their job for a remote position. The same study also found that they’d be willing to accept an 8% pay cut in exchange for the benefit of working from home.

Lone Worker Positions (and Companies) Enabled by Technology

Modern technology is supporting the current workforce, enabling fewer people to achieve greater productivity. Many companies are even going digital. Entire businesses are now completely remote, relying on conferencing software, email, and other collaboration tools to eliminate the cost of having an office.

Managers Take More Initiative

In the past, lone workers truly were alone. They were limited to their personal tools, good fortune, and wits. Today, fortunately, lone working is enhanced by technology. Now, lone workers can still communicate with a team while working remotely.

Protector by Vatix, for example, gives managers tools for tracking and communicating with lone workers while they’re on the job. Should anything go wrong, Protector alerts the appropriate manager or colleague, making lone working safer through connection.

A Fast-Changing Landscape

It’s still too early to see for sure, but many people expect that the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak will have long-lasting impacts on the global workforce. One notable change that many experts are predicting: more jobs will be performed alone and remote.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many companies to experiment with remote work. This may cause a lasting spike in lone worker jobs, simply because businesses will realize remote work is possible for operations. Coronavirus has been called the largest work from home experiment in the world. The result of this experiment may be a large movement toward lone working, long after we’ve overcome the direct effects of coronavirus.

Technology makes lone working more accessible to more people every day. This brings up new questions for businesses.

  • What are the risks of so many people working alone?
  • How do companies that are new to lone working begin to protect their employees from the inherent dangers?

We’ll dive into those questions in the coming chapters.