How biotech and other industries can find balance in a hybrid working model

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Leen Kawas | Entrepreneur, inventor, innovator and leader | General Manager at Propel Bio partners.

Hybrid work, especially what I witness within biotech and biopharma, helps create opportunities for the companies that endorse it. Whether it’s the post-Covid introduction of the mixed workplace, the emergence of the remote workplace as far from the office, or growing access to decentralized talent, dramatic and growing interest has emerged about where we work.

But unlike the remote working required by the pandemic for some industries, for some positions in the life science industry it was essential to stay in person or move to a hybrid work style. Here’s how I believe leaders can balance creating a hybrid work environment, especially for tricky industries like biotech.

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Pros and cons of hybrid work

Some people prefer to work from home. They want to avoid the commute and enjoy the flexibility of balancing personal and professional duties.

Others find importance and long-term value in personal time and hallway conversations and appreciate the work-life separation, and really, the soft skills you can gain from being in the office.

I believe that because many Zoomers started their careers remotely, they really don’t appreciate the personal and career development that takes place when they are present in person. While there are clear benefits for people who work from home, there are certainly missed opportunities for not being there in person, at least some of the time.

Hybrid work allows for things like periodic face-to-face meetings, which I think can more effectively help companies get a comprehensive view of all teams working on the same program. This can help build a collaborative and cohesive work environment and reinforce a sense of ownership and achievement for the work being done.

When it comes to face-to-face meetings, make sure you design events in an authentic way that is purposeful and helps build strong relationships.

Meeting challenges in remote and hybrid work

Some companies require employees to return to the office full time. For example, Amazon announced in February that it would ask all employees for a refund in May at least three days a week.

For the biotech industry, there is a need to be personal. In fact, a large number of scientists, physicians and clinical operations teams have continued to work partly or wholly in person during the pandemic.

Until decentralized clinical trials can become valid alternatives, operations teams working at clinical sites will need to continue to show up in person. The same is true for many manufacturing and supply chain positions.

However, one way an employer can be more flexible is to allow home working when scientists don’t have to experiment and just work on reports or analysis. It is important for leaders to find ways to create a balanced environment among all teams in their organization and to intentionally create these connections between their multidisciplinary teams.

All in all, in-person work can be important or even essential, but creating flexible work hours can help employees who need to balance their personal and professional commitments or who simply want to avoid the traffic jams in their daily commute. As a leader, make sure that you listen to the pulse of your organization and respond to and optimize accordingly.

Using hybrid in biotech

The task for life sciences leaders is to get the best of both worlds. There are ways to give people the flexibility to work from home, but there are also some incentives to bring them to the office and cultivate a strong collaborative culture.

The feedback I’ve seen from employees is that they like the mix of face-to-face personal time and work-from-home time. It is indicated on a larger scale what employees think of working remotely a survey of 12,000 employees by the Boston Consulting Group, which found that the majority of employees surveyed at the start of the pandemic, a total of 79%, reported being satisfied or experiencing improvement in four key areas while working remotely: social connectivity, mental health, physical health and access to tools in the workplace.

In addition, respondents noted that they were able to maintain or even increase their productivity remotely. However, productivity in collaborative tasks turned out to be more under pressure.

The bottom line is that organizations that build a hybrid and flexible workplace can attract a more diverse workforce. This also applies to young parents who appreciate the extra freedom to organize their time during the day. You can hire talent that may be in a different geography, save on overhead costs, and reuse those costs for intentional cultural, team-building, and organization-building activities.

In particular, roles such as project managers, program managers, and clinical trial monitors can gain the flexibility of hybrid work, even working primarily from home if they prefer. And even team members who need to be present for clinical trials, science experiments or production runs can be given the flexibility to work from home on tasks that don’t require them to be in the lab or on site.

Recruit top talent with hybrid work

Even with some limitations in biotechnology, companies with flexible policies attract top talent from competitors that are perceived as less compliant. Recruitment agencies are emerging that cater to disaffected individuals seeking remote work or flexible working arrangements.

Ultimately, I think it is increasingly important for organizations and leaders to adapt and create environments that improve the well-being and performance of their organizations. I recommend finding ways to include coworking spaces that invite collaboration when people are in the office, digital coworking systems that strengthen the working relationship when remote, and intentional team building activities that cultivate a strong and supportive culture.

I believe that when leaders spend time with their teams at all levels, they can create unique working models and cultures that will bring innovation to our industry.


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