My office has an alarm that should be set when they exit the building. Unfortunately, sometimes the last employee out forgets, or doesn't realize that they're the last one (the office is on a single floor but you have to walk around the whole floor to see if you're the last one).

Any good tricks for reminding employees to remember to set the alarm?

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    Can the alarm auto-engage at a certain time? Can it be always on w/ a "push to exit" button? If they're not able to make a habit of setting the alarm when hey leave, will they be able to make a habit of "signing out" on the board when they leave (in addition to what they're already failing to do--set the alarm when they're last).
    – bdimag
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 19:08
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    Do not allow work after the regular working hours. Then have pne person, such as yourself or the facility manager, with responsibility to set the alarm. It is counterproductive to work overtime anyway.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 19:45
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    You don't have to be working overtime to be leaving after some arbitrary cut-off. The system needs to be able to handle flexible working hours.
    – cdkMoose
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 20:22
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    @HLGEM What a ridiculously bad suggestion.
    – Etheryte
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 22:38
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    Does the alarm affect the whole building or just the exits? In the later case, the alarm could set up itself automatically after hours, and require being disabled for leaving (eg. if nobody left in the last 15 minutes). And if the last one forgets to enable it, it will only be disabled for 15 minutes, not the whole night.
    – Ángel
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 8:29

9 Answers 9


I worked for one employer with an algorithm for this (yes, it was a software company, why do you ask?).

  • Certain people are designated "keyholders". This is because the last one out didn't just set the alarm, they also locked up, for which they each had their own set of keys. You could use a different name if there are no keys. The algorithm works if everyone is a keyholder, however at a minimum you can't be a keyholder if you haven't been shown how to work the alarm and this algorithm.

  • At the start of the day, at least one keyholder and preferably more becomes "tagged". This could be decided in daily standup, or could be the same person/people every day, provided that when that person isn't in, someone else becomes tagged in their place. It might as well be people who are likely to leave late, to save a lot of unnecessary checking right at close-of-play, so if you have people who typically work 10-6 instead of 9-5 then they are good candidates to start out tagged every day.

  • A tagged keyholder is not permitted to leave the building for the day without first doing one of two things:

    • Find another keyholder, say to them "tag", and receive acknowledgement of the tag. This other keyholder thereby becomes tagged. Probably common-sense, but since I called this an algorithm I'll state it explicitly: having tagged another keyholder, a keyholder may decline (refuse to acknowledge) tags directed at them, in which case whoever tried to tag them must find someone else. The conversation goes: "tag", "sorry, no, I'm already leaving", "curse you, fiend!".
    • Eject all non-keyholders from the building and lock up / set the alarm. This might also require checking the toilets, turning off lights or appliances, and that kind of thing, in which case have a checklist at the exit reminding them what to do.

The basic trick here is just to encourage keyholders (or everyone, if applicable) to consider locking up today to be an important task that has fallen to them unless they pass it on to someone else. OK, so someone might still forget, but at least they got a reminder on that day (not in a memo or company meeting six months previously), and at least checking whether you're the last to leave is a routine activity even for (some) people who normally are not the last to leave. And the person left locking up hopefully won't be someone who's forgotten how to set the alarm, because they have an opportunity to ask any questions they need to when they're tagged.

Typically the tag isn't arduous, since people will tend to tag those who work near them. Relatively few people actually have to search the building.

Note that the exchange of words "tag", "OK" is superior to just checking if anyone else is still there, since without interaction it's possible for two people each to observe that the other is still present. Then whoever leaves last doesn't notice the other one leave just before they do, but after they've established "I don't need to lock up".

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    This is similar to the procedure a project I work on has used for the last few years to lock up our lab at the end of the day. Our lab/team is small enough that we're able to track it by just using an extra dot on the same magnetic whiteboard we use to track who's in the lab at present. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 3:18
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    Also in large buildings if last one out of an area turns off the lights/shuts a door, etc. That way the same system can be applied zonally to save someone needing to trudge round the whole place at the end of the day.
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 12:02
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    This is the method we use. If you are staying past 5pm, you must walk around and find at least one other person and indicate that you're leaving. The last person can't find anyone, and thus locks up. You aren't allowed to leave without either 1) saying goodbye to someone or 2) locking up. If the office is too large to walk around, talk to your security company about setting up multiple lockable zones so each department can lock themselves up and have a smaller area/office to check for stragglers.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 12:23
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    I would add passing the tag along an ominous looking totem. Something that sits on your desk and reminds you that you indeed have been tagged.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 8:28
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    We use a bright yellow badge with a clip on it. The badge says "I accept responsibility for setting the alarm and locking up". The person with the badge isn't allowed to leave the building without handing it off to someone else that can lock up.
    – George
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 11:30

What you need is a token:

Cut a length of dowel, paint it a visible color, drill a hole and loop a lanyard through it. Where I used to work, we called it "the baton."

Install a hook on the wall next to the alarm panel and hang the baton on it.

The first employee that arrives in the morning disarms the security system and takes the baton to his office.

When that employee leaves for the day, he begins walking the floor and gives the baton to the first other employee he can find. When that employee leaves, he does the same.

When no other employees can be found, the employee with the baton arms the security system on the way out and hangs the baton on the hook for the first employee the next day.

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    Essentially the same as the tagging system mentioned above but with he addition of a physical token Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 10:40
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    @ratchetfreak: Yep, but there's only one "tagged" person, which is whoever's holding the token. There's also a fail-safe in this where if someone disarms the alarm and doesn't take the baton, anyone who notices it can take it and the system will continue to work. It also doesn't involve forcing anyone out of the building who isn't ready to leave.
    – Blrfl
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 12:31
  • But on the other hand requires everyone to know how to set the alarm and not leave the token in a meeting room somewhere and forget about it. (though neither account for a toilet break right when the second to last guy leaves) Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 12:40
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    Yea, we have a similar system - a bright red badge that clips onto your shirt. You can't forget it at your desk.
    – James Adam
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 20:26
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    @ratchetfreak: So you don't give the baton to someone who doesn't know how to set the alarm -- and the baton holder has to ensure that any such people have left before the alarm is set. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 21:38

One way is to have a white board or some sort of sign-in sheet near the front door. (Like this one - thanks @Austin!) When you arrive for the day, write your name on the board, and when you leave for the day, erase it. If you don't see anyone else's name on the board, then you need to lock up!

In some companies, security is of high importance, and failure to lock up an area needs to be reported and is an auditable offense. If things are really becoming a problem, then you could start marking in people's employee record when they don't lock up the building. If setting the alarm is tied to their job performance, they will be much more likely to remember to do it.

@DJClayworth makes a good point that sometimes people will forget to sign out before they leave for the day. Usually if it's near the end of the day and I see that there is only one or two other names on the board, I will double check to make sure they are actually still in the office. But in the end, if the building is not alarmed because someone forgot to sign out, they are the ones held responsible for not following procedure.

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    A magnetic in/out board would be a good solution for this
    – user33201
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 18:14
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    Given the likelihood of someone forgetting to tag themselves out on any kind of board, I would recommend coupling it up with a visual check that one of the people marked as "in" is still actually in. Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 21:44
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    I would combine this with having the person who enters in the morning check the board. If the alarm is not set and there's a name on the board, it's someone who forgot to "sign out" and needs to go and be told off. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 14:02
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    What if you forget to write your name on the board?
    – camden_kid
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 15:38
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    "if the building is not alarmed because someone forgot to sign out, they are the ones held responsible for not following procedure" -- since it's almost certain to be a member of senior management who forgot to wipe their name, I'm not sure I'm brave enough to stipulate this :-) Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 16:27

In my company we have an automatic solution to this problem, which seems to work just fine. It requires a presence check-in system connected to the alarm and a convenient tool to disarm the alarm from where you are within the perimeter.

We have a large and very segmented building with one alarm that covers everything. It proves almost unmanagable to set the alarm manually without any automation. We have a RFID based presence system for fire protection and accounting purposes, which is conveniently used for managing the alarm as well.

So here is how it works:

  • Let's start at 4 AM, when the building is empty and the alarm is armed (active).
  • First employee comes through the door, alram sets off its warning sound to notify about its active state.
  • (The first) employee checks in to the presence system and the alarm is disarmed.
  • People come and go, and through the normal working hours AND if there are at least N people checked in, the alarm rests disarmed.
  • Some time after the regular hours or whenever the number of people checked in falls below N, the alarm switches to pre-armed state and sounds the warning (which is surely audible throughout the building!) for given grace period.
    • When no one reacts, the alarm arms itself after the grace period and waits if there, at last, somebody comes breaking in tonight. If not, go to step one.
    • Anyone can disarm the alarm from their desk or using the RFID-reader during the grace period. We have a little piece of software installed everywhere that makes that possible. If this happens, the alarm pre-arms itself after a further check-out or after half an hour. When you are alone in the office doing late hours, you get a nice wake up call every once in a while :-)
  • Everyone can pre-arm the alarm manually - the same conditions apply as for the automatic pre-arming (number of people checked-in, grace period for disarming when you are still there).

At the first glance it may look incredibly complicated, but it has proved itself a very reliable system that is easy to grasp and convenient for everyone while minimizing the human error as far as possible.

  • I'm very interested in reading more about this system, especially the software... What program or suite does this for you? Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 19:44
  • @CanadianLuke: We have a building automation system, into which a button is added for the alarm. It is one of producs of my company, so I don't want to do advertising here. But as soon as the alarm system has any sort of standard communication input, it's not a hard task. I'd recommend searching for 'facility control system'.
    – Pavel
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 21:44
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    Having everyone able to disarm from their desk is nice. Otherwise, this system would be really annoying for the people who work lately semi-frequently, especially right after the nth person leaves (as this would likely be a time of day when several people are leaving.)
    – reirab
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 18:31
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    @reirab: I believe that is the key idea of the whole system. Our advantage is that we do develop these things internally.
    – Pavel
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 18:47

Suggest they come up with a strategy. You've given them the responsibility of setting the alarm; they should be able to do this. An in and out board is a good idea.

Unfortunately, if they can't manage this, they'll need to lose the flexibility of having access to the office after normal hours. An alternative would be to assign someone a day/week in which they get to stay and lock up. It would be a shame to have to treat professional adults like this, but their current behavior doesn't leave you much choice.

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    You make it sound like having access to the office after "normal" working hours is a perk only to the employee, while in many cases it's a perk for the company instead/as well. I've worked at multiple firms that practiced very flexible working hours and this often ended up with people voluntarily putting in more hours because they were still in "the zone". As the end result the company profits noticeably, employees are happier and everyone wins.
    – Etheryte
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 22:40

I work at a (somewhat) similar office: we have multiple teams spread out in multiple large rooms on a single floor and the solution we use is rather simple.

Whenever you're the last person to leave the room, turn off the lights for that room. If you're leaving your corridor (a corridor connects, for example, three rooms) and see that all the rooms are dark, turn off the lights for the corridor as well. If you're leaving and see that all other lights are off, turn on the alarm.

Naturally, this won't work if you live in an area where daylight is plentiful and you don't use lights daily.


In case you want a high-tech solution: place motion sensors in all rooms. Configure them so that if there is no motion for 15 minutes (to allow people to go to the bathroom when working late) in the entire building, the alarm gets enabled.

Actually, motion sensors might be somewhat tricky: people easily set at their desks for 15 minutes without moving long. An alternative might be to check whether all computers are turned off (not including the servers, obviously). You can even do this with the above suggested lights solution by Nit.

In any case, if humans are unreliable, machines are your next best bet.

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    people can sit at a computer for hours with little motion. your solution would have to work for them, too.
    – atk
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 15:39
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    A lot of people also leave their computers on. For instance, as a developer, I usually have a very large amount of stuff open on my computer at any given time. Back when I had to shut down at the end of each day, I spent the first ~30 minutes of the next day just getting everything open again. Similarly, I also frequently need to leave tests running overnight, so turning off the PC is a no-go.
    – reirab
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 18:35
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    @reirab I'm not necessarily talking about a full shutdown. sleep and hibernate modes are equally verifiable. As for the testing, provided your company is big enough, it's equally feasible often to run those tests on a VM on a server.
    – Nzall
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 22:24
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    @NateKerkhofs Not when the tests involve debuggers attached to embedded devices connected to your PC... and this is only one scenario that I personally run into frequently. I'm sure there are many other equally-valid reasons to need to leave a PC running overnight. For any significantly-sized organization, relying on all PCs to be shut down/hibernated/put to sleep overnight for arming an alarm system isn't going to be feasible. There are lots of reasons to leave computers on, remote access/administration not being the least of them.
    – reirab
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 20:42

Set the alarm after the regular office time is over. Everyone who stays in office after that and has to go out must disable the alarm and then set it again before leaving.

Following this protocol will ensure the alarm is always set and there is no guesswork involved whether someone else is still in the building or not. Yes it is a little extra hassle for everyone to do it but it ensures its set always.

Neither does it cost you an extra dime nor does it rely on guesswork.

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    Most alarms have or can be configured with an "Exit" button. Push the button, enter your code, and you get x seconds to leave.
    – longneck
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 14:11
  • This only works if the alarm doesn't go off as soon as someone is encountered inside the building. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 8:43
  • Which we don't know about. We do not know which type of alarm they have. Usually alarms will go off when doors are opened not if any movement is detected but then we dont really know their current situation. In a bank even a shadow might trigger one. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 8:45
  • And if the alarm has push to exit button thats even better then. Just set it once when office time is over and everybody must push to exit, simple. How can this idea not work then? Commented Nov 7, 2015 at 18:12

Use doors that open with RFID tags, and log opening. The last one to leave should set the alarm. If the alarm isn't set, check who left last and talk to them. Also, set the alarm to auto-activate at a certain time and disable door opening (to "help" people leave :D )

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