Manager Stories - Andy Peters - Looking into the future of Life Sciences

How work within the life sciences will change in the ongoing and post-COVID-19 world

I did not initially set out to write an article at all. I set out to simply speak to my clients – my customers – to understand how the world was changing for them, because I could feel how quickly it was changing for me. I wanted to virtually sit down with them and discuss what was happening, what had changed, what might change later, and what could permanently change forever.

It was no simple feat for any employer to transition hundreds - or in some cases thousands - of workers from an in-office work environment to a remote one in the matter of weeks. It wasn’t simple for our workers on assignment. It wasn’t simple for our clients. And it certainly wasn’t simple for us.  

So how should we deal with a situation that’s constantly evolving?

The pandemic has made its initial impact. The life sciences Industry – the industry I serve – is working at break-neck pace on a myriad of initiatives right now. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, chronic diseases – none of these things have stopped either. All of these topics demand supreme expertise. Talent. Human resource. Essential Workers. That’s how we solve these immense problems and challenges - it is how we always have.

However, as innovative, ground-breaking, and empowering as the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device industries are, it has been a chronic condition that they have lagged far behind other technology-led industries when it comes to work-life flexibility. All the way into the year 2020, these industries have largely been clinging to a notion of a necessary bricks-and-mortar 9-to-5 work style rather than breaking down those old, industrial-era barriers and embracing the new ways of working of the digital age. It is true, in some roles this is absolutely unavoidable - laboratory workers, technicians, manufacturers – these people need to be physically in the labs and on the manufacturing floors. Just about everyone else – every full-time employee, contractor, and gig worker – they deserve the same flexibility afforded to those working in other high-tech industries.

The power of the passion these workers all have for what they do rivals any other industry. It truly does not matter what their worker definition is – permanent, contract, or freelance - I am truly inspired by their sense of purpose.

And that brings us to the big, impossible question - what will the future look like? Through dozens of conversations with my clients’ procurement managers and MSP program directors I have gathered what I think is a very realistic look at what the future of work will look like as we evolve throughout the pandemic.

In the world of staffing, compliance is the watchword. Vendors are scored on it and we are held to a high standard to meet 100% compliance for every worker. ‘Essential Workers’ became a brand new topic of discussion with a much broader scope of roles which most of us had not considered before, and - we needed to adapt just as fast to meet new compliance standards and do everything possible to ensure safety.

More importantly, all-of-a-sudden, nearly everyone has switched to remote working. At Real, it gave us an interesting insight - in the old world of working, just a few months prior, we would have been told there was no way that 90% of the jobs we recruit for could have been handled remotely and they must exist “on-site”. But now, these same jobs and workers are 100% remote and still succeeding. My clients believe, and I agree, that this has been an incredibly important lesson for the industry. A shift that was so strongly resisted previously was forced upon us. Now, as a result, we will likely never revert back to the old ways of working.

What is important to note is that the adaptation for the worker is not the remarkable part here. The work is the same in most respects. The true evolution that seemingly happened overnight is owned by the managers and directors who are directly in charge of these people. They adapted their styles, norms, and responsiveness to their team structure at warp-speed. The feedback I have heard from dozens of clients is remarkably similar - the attitude and community response to this shift in work structures has been overwhelmingly positive. More importantly, it is proving at least as effective as before.

As we come through the pandemic the industry will continue to experience many changes. A more agile manufacturing structure for vaccine and drug production? Probably. More varied and flexible shift options for required on-site positions? We are already seeing it in many instances. The vastly expanded flexibility for most workers – permanent, contract, and freelance – to work and complete their projects and assignments from wherever they choose at a time that suits them? I expect so.

The industry has begun to learn that the capabilities of these STEM experts are accessible across the world. The added benefit for these companies in terms of access to the best talent is too great to give up – especially now that the technology for advanced communication is so readily available. It will save cost in salaries, benefits, and travel. It will impact their carbon impact positively and increase worker satisfaction. It will allow the best of the best to attract the best of the best. Period. And that is what is best for the world too.

When we reach the other side of this, the leaders of this industry will undoubtedly be the ones that champion this change in work/life balance and flexibility. Workers have a now had a taste for this like never before – and they will insist on it like never before. The companies that embrace this in the best way will benefit the most and ultimately be able to access the best talent available.

So, as the industry embraces itself for change, how prepared are you? Are you ready to embrace the new working world?

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