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How J&J developed remote working policy and practice

Published: Health and Safety Review April 2020 Edition

To find out how Johnson & Johnson plants and offices in Ireland went about meeting the challenge of Covid-19, HSR spoke to Pat Fitzgerald, the company’s EHS&S country lead.

To gauge the scale of the task, it is necessary to look at the structure of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in Ireland. The company operates four plants and six commercial offices, employing over 5,500 people at sites throughout the country.

Given the Government’s guidance that everyone who could work from home should do so, J&J immediately provided about 2,000 staff members with the IT equipment and support necessary to work remotely.

The early weeks of the pandemic crisis were, as Pat Fitzgerald put it, “very dynamic”. As it became apparent remote working would continue, J&J began to develop its polices to answer the question: how are we going to support our teams working from home?

Very quickly, broader supports were launched, including J&J’s mental health support programme, which covers a suite of topics including EAP (employee assistance programme), occupational health and family care programmes. There was also support in adapting to other challenges presented for those working from home and as part of that response J&J had developed its E4P (energy for performance) energy management tool and emphasised the key elements of the tools in discussions with staff.

By May-June 2020, as it became apparent that remote working was likely to continue, J&J considered providing more formalised supports for those working from home, which included DSE assessment of home work stations. At the same time, the HSA was developing its guidance and outlining a two-stage approach to DSE (display screen equipment) risk assessments: an online risk assessment followed up by a video meeting to deal with any issues arising. This reflected the policy J&J was developing.

DSE assessment tool


Already using the contractor portal from the SHEQ Network, J&J spoke with SHEQ managing director, Dan Gallagher, to review their online DSE training and assessment tool. This new online tool provides training and a technical assessment for each employee.

The SHEQ tool offers the ability to schedule and complete an online consultation with an ergonomist and to identify items that might be needed for the home office worker. The reports, support and the ability to review three employees per hour were critical factors in their final decision to use this tool.

Using the SHEQ tool, employers are able to send a link to employees at their home. The employee creates an account and completes a DSE assessment, which is in line with HSA requirements and J&J standards. The assessment is then returned to the employer.

The assessment is reviewed by an ergonomist and an online meeting between the employee and the ergonomist is arranged. At this meeting, the assessment is reviewed and any follow up actions that are needed are identified. The ergonomist then sends a report to the staff member’s manager.

Investing in home working


Pat Fitzgerald says this process allows J&J to take whatever follow up action is necessary. Some reports indicate only adjustments are needed. Other reports might identify a need for furniture or equipment. The items most commonly required were chairs and desks, with some requiring height-adjustable desks.

If the ergonomist decides a staff member needs furniture or equipment, the ergonomist selects from a J&J pre-approved list. In the main, furniture and equipment are purchased from Stakelums of Thurles, with the required equipment shipped within 24 hours. By mid-January, 1,900 assessments had been carried out and over 4,000 items of furniture and equipment had been shipped. The operation has been cost-efficient, he says.

DSE assessments and purchasing furniture and equipment are just part of J&J’s policy to support staff working from home. To support teams working from home, virtual coffee meetings and virtual weekly town hall meetings (at which the general manager speaks) are held.

J&J monitors how staff are responding to remote work. Pat Fitzgerald says the feedback from their online remote working polls is “positive”. Looking ahead, he notes the publication of the Government’s remote working strategy and says this will feed into J&J’s remote working policy post Covid-19.


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