How to ‘Flex Work’ in the Pharmaceutical Industry?

What is Flex Work?

Flex work, known also as flexible working, means giving employees more control over when, where, and how they work.

This can include remote working, flexible hours, compressed workweeks, and job sharing. The idea really took off during the COVID-19 pandemic when businesses had to adapt to keep things running smoothly.

Flexible working has become a big deal in many industries, and pharma is no exception. This blog dives into what flexible working is, where it came from, and why it’s important for the pharmaceutical sector. We’ll look at the benefits and challenges, different working models, and how to implement flex work in a way that works for everyone.

I know flexible working is a hot topic, and there’s a ton of stuff out there about it. I’ll focus on insights and tips tailored specifically for pharma companies, tackling industry-specific challenges and opportunities.

Best Way to Implement Flexible Working in Pharma

Bringing flexible working to the pharmaceutical industry takes some thought and planning. Here are some key steps to make it work:

  1. Assess Job Roles and Responsibilities: Not every job in pharma can be done remotely. Figure out which roles can be flexible without hurting productivity or compliance.
  2. Invest in Technology: Make sure employees have the right tech to do their jobs well from anywhere. This means secure VPNs, collaboration tools, and data management systems.
  3. Provide Training: Help employees and managers learn the skills they need for remote work. This includes using digital tools, good communication practices, and keeping a healthy work-life balance.
  4. Set Clear Expectations: Lay down the rules for flexible working. This includes work hours, availability, communication, and performance metrics.
  5. Monitor and Evaluate: Keep an eye on how well flexible working is going. Get feedback from employees and tweak things as needed to make it better.

Should a Four-Day Week Be Considered?

A four-day workweek is becoming popular as companies look to boost work-life balance and productivity. Here’s how it stacks up for the pharmaceutical industry:

Pros:

  • Enhanced Focus and Productivity: Shorter weeks can mean better focus and less burnout.
  • Attracting Talent: A four-day week is a great perk, helping you attract and keep top talent.
  • Reduced Operational Costs: Fewer workdays can cut down on utilities and other costs.

Cons:

  • Potential for Increased Workload: Employees might feel pressured to cram the same work into fewer days.
  • Scheduling Challenges: Coordinating meetings and deadlines in a shorter week can be tricky.
  • Impact on Client Services: Keeping up with client needs and project timelines could get tougher.

Should We Go Fully Remote, Hybrid, or Office-Based?

Choosing the right working model is key. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of each:

Fully Remote:

  • Pros: Maximum flexibility, lower overhead costs, and higher job satisfaction.
  • Cons: Challenges with collaboration and maintaining company culture. Some roles, like lab work, can’t be done remotely.

Hybrid:

  • Pros: Best of both worlds—flexibility with some in-office time for face-to-face interaction.
  • Cons: Requires careful planning to ensure smooth transitions. Can lead to inconsistent team dynamics.

Office-Based:

  • Pros: Easy collaboration and access to on-site resources. Great for spontaneous discussions and team building.
  • Cons: Less flexibility and higher operational costs. Might not attract those seeking better work-life balance.

What is the Ratio of Home, Hybrid, Office Within Pharma?

Pharma is leaning towards hybrid models, with many companies adopting a mix of home and office work. The exact split varies, but hybrid setups are the most common as they offer a good balance of flexibility and collaboration.

Case Studies in the Pharmaceutical Industry about Flex Work Models

AstraZeneca uses a hybrid model, with employees working both from home and the office. This setup has boosted productivity and employee satisfaction. They’ve invested in digital tools to support remote work and set clear guidelines for effective communication.

GSK: Offers various flexible working options, including remote work, flexible hours, and part-time roles. These arrangements have increased employee engagement and reduced turnover. They also provide robust training for managers to handle remote teams effectively.

Novartis: Has a “Choice with Responsibility” policy, letting employees choose their work arrangements while meeting their responsibilities. This has created a culture of trust and accountability, leading to more innovation and collaboration.

Other Case Studies

Pharmaceutical organisations like MSD, Medtronic, Roche, Novartis, and UCB have been at the forefront of implementing effective hybrid working practices even before the pandemic. These companies operate as matrix organisations, with cross-functional and project-based teams rather than permanent teams.

Key takeaways from their experience:

  • Clear Framework: It’s essential to establish a clear framework for remote work. This includes defining rules (such as minimum or maximum days for working from home) that everyone can align with. Communicating this framework creatively, such as through podcasts or webinars, helps ensure consistency.
  • Balancing Management Styles: Managers need to strike a balance between nurturing team members (checking in on well-being) and focusing on output (deliverables). Adopting management by outcome—setting clear objectives and empowering individuals with autonomy—can lead to sustained success.

Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) – Sustained Implementation of Hybrid Working

  • The RPS developed a robust hybrid working strategy with the help of experts. Their step-by-step roadmap facilitated a smooth transition from the concept of hybrid working to its sustained implementation.

Flexible and Hybrid Working Practices: Case Studies by CIPD

  • The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) explores various aspects of flexible and hybrid working through case studies. These include transitioning to new ways of working, stakeholder engagement, technology adoption, managing hybrid teams, maintaining relationships, supporting well-being, and focusing on performance outcomes.

These case studies provide valuable insights into how pharmaceutical organisations have successfully embraced hybrid working models.

What next with Flex Work?

Pharma faces unique challenges and opportunities with flexible working. By understanding different models and implementing best practices, companies can create a work environment that supports both business goals and employee well-being. Whether it’s a four-day week, a hybrid model, or balancing remote and office work, the key is to stay flexible and responsive to the needs of the workforce.

In the end, flexible working isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Each pharma company needs to figure out what works best for them. By doing so, they can boost productivity, attract top talent, and ensure their employees are happy and healthy, driving the industry forward in a changing world.

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Have we lost the work-life balance?

Work-life balance, we talk about it all the time. It’s so important to make sure you have a balance between your work and home life – we’re big advocates of it here. The last year has turned everything upside down and we’ve been at home permanently, so it has made the topic even more important and more widely discussed. Is work-life balance even a ‘thing’ anymore or have we progressed into something more fluid?

There are many factors to be considered when addressing the work-life balance argument – for me, they all centre around technology. Technology has allowed us to change the once rigid working environment – with a set place of work and working hours – to be much more fluid and relaxed. This advancement allows for far greater flexibility, but can add extra challenges for keeping the structure in place between your work and social life.

Remote working

Remote working allows us to work from anywhere, not just in the office. At home, on a train, in another office, even abroad. In most cases, all you need is your laptop and phone and Wi-Fi connection and you’re away. This flexible working allows employees to work in different places, where they may feel happier, more productive or more creative. It means they are able to work while they travel to a social event or go away for some peace and quiet, without taking holiday. Allowing work and life to intertwine can lead to a much happier, healthier and more productive team.

Flexitime

Flexitime gives employees the freedom to choose their hours to fit around their other commitments outside of work. This blurs the lines, but in my opinion in a positive way – you can work around dropping off your kids, having a personal appointment or event meeting friends. You do not need to sacrifice your work or your personal commitments – you still do your hours and get your work done but can also do the things in your personal life that are important.

Technology

Mobile phones and laptops are great because you can take them easily wherever you go, to work remotely. But this often comes with its own problems – if you use the same laptop or phone for both personal use and for work, it can be difficult to switch off. Many phones have emails and Slack and other forms of communication for work connected to them, which allows totally switching off from work almost impossible! There are solutions though – whether it’s keeping a separate phone for work or turning off notifications for certain apps, you can still maintain healthy barriers. Turning your phone to ‘do not distrub’ mode at times also helps to switch off – whether it is to concentrate on a project for work or to do something personal, it’s good to have some quiet time to concentrate.

Blurred lines

All these technological factors blur the lines between your work life and your home life. But is it necessarily a bad thing? In my opinion, the freedom and flexibility businesses and employees now have, to work where and when they want, is brilliant. And, although the factors blur the lines so work can creep into your home life, it also means your home life can merge into work-life too – you are able to juggle other responsibilities around work, rather than following a strict 9-5 Monday – Friday in the office. Less need to sacrifice things, including our own health. Having said that, it is still really important to make sure you keep a balance and sometimes – press the off button, to successfully manage stress in the workplace.

If you need some practical tips to help you, here are 6 tips for a better work-life balance.

Carl Hinett is our Director & Executive Search Specialist. If you’ve got a hard-to-fill role and need some help, get in touch carl@refind.co.uk.

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