First, the figure working alone, or standing alone, is perfectly realistic, provided the work being done looks all right in the “freeze motion” of figures on a layout. Just as the figure of a baseball player leaping to catch a ball looks odd when “frozen,” so does the track worker with a sledge hammer at the top of the swing. So the solitary figure should be doing something that makes sense, or else simply standing at ease.
Second, a figure just standing, while perfectly possible, is a little odd for an extended time. I used to have a single person standing outside the waiting room of my depot at Shumala. This is an excellent Preiser figure. But one might wonder why he is standing there.
The best way to make this look all right is to add a second figure. It looks like they are conversing, a situation in which two figures may well stand still for some time.
Workmen may well fit the same pattern, two people working together. You need to find two figures who can appear to cooperate in a task. I have posed two figures like this, on the loading dock of my depot at Santa Rosalia.
Other groupings, not of workmen, may suggest themselves by the structures and businesses you include on your layout. I made some picnic tables for an outdoor serving area near my Dolphin & Anchor tavern (which I described awhile back, in this post: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/02/signs-for-structures.html ). The tables were easy, just using scale 8-inch-wide styrene strip and arranging them exactly like the tables you might see in any park or campground, and glued together atop wax paper on a little sketch of the leg angles. Here’s a view from underneath which shows the construction.
I used a couple of these for my tavern serving area, and used figures from “seated travelers” sets to populate them. I do need to add a waitress here somewhere. But I think this does make a believable scene of tavern customers enjoying an outdoor seating area.
No doubt most modelers could readily multiply examples of figure placement, good and bad, but I think it’s an aspect of using figures that deserves thought. I plan to return to this topic in a future post.