As the headlines have shifted from an invisible war to an unsavoury one in Ukraine, employers are reflecting – and playing catch up – on the monumental change in working practices in a post-pandemic world.
There has been an undeniably permanent societal shift left in the pandemics wake with regards to how we communicate, collaborate and engage with each other, which has perhaps propelled the concept of ‘digital transformation’ forward a decade or so within a few short years.
Whilst the days of social distancing are becoming little more than a distant memory, employers have been left with the challenges presented by this new way of working. It will be essential for these systemic and operational changes to be carefully planned and managed, however, the bigger challenge to businesses will be maintaining the emotional wellbeing of a consistently distanced workforce. This is what turns a group of people into a productive team, wherever they may be.
The Rise of Collaborative Technology
Just as the future has always been shaped by the lessons of the past, a successful business’ greatest asset has always been and always will be the productivity of its people, and its people have been brought together through the tool that is technology.
Through technology, we saw (and continue to see) a remote workforce working productively, forced to innovate and change in the face of adversity. The long-resisted notion of ‘working from home’ moved from a lockdown necessity to a future normality – so much so that many businesses cashed in their premises in favour of a virtual base. The tangible benefits to businesses of a displaced workforce are clearly the cost savings delivered by the reduction in facilities, measured against any notional loss in productivity.
While decisions will continue to be made, problems solved and ideas exchanged by the people that are in the room, the definition of ‘in the room’ has permanently changed. Location neutral meetings, with people physically attending alongside others connecting across the world, seemed like a concept found in a Hollywood Sci-Fi film, but is a very real prospect in 2022.
There are also mental and financial benefits to staff too, with a reduction in costly commutes, as well as the more balanced lifestyle brought by the flexible working hours that could finally see the end of the traditional 9 to 5 working week. But is the life sciences industry still holding on?
Traditional work arrangements no longer enough
Outside of a reasonable (or even generous) salary, employers previously relied on a set of benefits to help keep staff content with going in to a physical place of work every day, including early finishes on Fridays, a day off on your birthday, mental health days, gym memberships and more. However, now that the concept of successful remote working has been proved, the goalposts of ‘employee benefits’ have changed. In fact, we would wager that all of the above would be traded in an instant for the ‘location flexibility’ reluctantly afforded to employees during the pandemic. The workforce has developed a taste for this way of working and would have it as a permanent part of the recipe that is job satisfaction.
This has led to dissonance in the Life Sciences industry which is reluctant to adapt to the new ways of working. We found that 90% of candidates now expect flexibility, however, this is in direct opposition to the industry Task Force set-up to encourage ‘back to work 5 days a week’. This leaves a bad taste in the mouth of an already small pool of talent that Life Science organisations can court. ‘Old’ working practices are almost becoming anachronistic amongst young talent, reducing the number of potential employees as they transition to other, more progressive industries.
This is particularly acute in the far east, with European companies keen to dip into the growing pool of talent in this part of the world due to their valuable understanding of Asian diseases – a key skill in this current climate.
Whilst Life Science companies and potential employees are at loggerheads on this issue, a larger problem is at play. There is constant pressure on organisations to develop the next big drug, meet regulatory challenges and take a product to market while simultaneous manufacturing at the lowest possible costs. A Life Science company is only as good as their last project and investment in bringing a drug to market is around €2 billion with late-stage failure (and significant financial loss) commonplace. Combine with this the constant pressure from National Health Authorities and Health Providers to drive down the price – attracting and recruiting key talent is more important than ever before.
The reluctance to offer job flexibility only adds fuel to this fire as with any organisation, the success of the outfit hinges on the talent of the employees. The standoff between employers and employees will only make it more difficult to hit these targets – so something has to shift! The challenge for Life Science companies is to adapt to the new way of working in a sustainable, systematic way that benefits both the employer and employee. How this is achieved, we are yet to discover…