On March 23rd 2021, the UK marked a solemn anniversary. One year since the first lockdown was introduced, it was a moment to remember lives lost and to reflect on where we are now. For most of us, lockdown has been a strange and paradoxical experience, watching the world change rapidly around us while trapped in a loop of everyday sameness.
With the roadmap out of lockdown in place and the vaccine rollout in full swing, the nation is casting its eyes towards the future with a curious mix of anxiety and optimism. The same questions linger on everyone’s lips: will things return to how they were? And should they?
At the start of lockdown, a remote workforce was born overnight. Now, speculation is mounting about the future of the traditional office. What began as an emergency response to a public health crisis has given rise to fundamental, and some would say irrevocable, shifts in workplace culture. It has opened our eyes to new ways of working that we simply cannot unsee.
More than an “aberration”?
Some are clinging steadfastly to the old office model, vehemently denying that the events of the past year will have any lasting impact on the way businesses operate. Goldman Sachs, for example, has publicly rejected remote working as no more than an “aberration.”
The majority of industry leaders, however, recognise the world has changed and acknowledge their need to change with it. The trouble is, they still haven’t figured out how. Across sectors, we hear repeated assurances that ‘we will not go back to how things were’, without any tangible commitment to what they will be. And the clock is ticking.
In the life sciences, after a year at the forefront of innovation, we also seem to be reverting back to our former caution, reluctant to put our heads above the parapet. At the end of 2020, AbbVie, AstraZeneca and Bristol Myers Squibb all cited a “phased approach” to returning to the office without any specific timelines. A notable exception is Novartis who, back in July 2020, announced their ‘Choice with Responsibility’ policy. This was a step towards empowering associates to choose how, where, and when they work.
Even big tech, one of the first industries to announce remote working as permanent option for employees, seems to be at an impasse. While Spotify and Twitter have both promoted a ‘work from anywhere’ policy, Amazon recently announced that it will return to office culture as a baseline. Google also plans to accelerate its return to office policy.
Hybridity offer compromise, but comes with its own complications
Of course, this hesitancy doesn’t just boil down to a collective desire to preserve the status quo. From an organisational perspective, a hybrid workforce is much more complex to manage. Concerns have been raised about remote models eroding work-life balance, reducing the capacity for collaborative working, and negatively impacting employee wellbeing. It has also been suggested that hybrid working arrangements could undermine diversity and inclusion initiatives, inadvertently create hierarchies that affect the career development of predominantly remote workers.
While there are challenges to be overcome, there are also advantages to be gained. If organisations continue to bury their heads in the sand, opting for the path of least resistance in the short term, they risk missing the opportunity to create lasting positive organisational change.
Even before the pandemic, Eradigm were pioneers in the remote working area and allowed employees to work from home when needed. Now, we are taking a leading position and exploring ways to implement a dynamic, hybrid working culture. We are striving to develop a working model that not only supports, but actively enhances, the core objectives and values at the heart of our business.
By staff and for staff
No working model will be an exact fit for everyone. Whatever is introduced must be flexible and, above all, it must be responsive to what employees actually want. We are in continuous communication with our team, and initiated conversations early on in the pandemic to establish best practices going forward. We distributed a company-wide survey to learn how people felt about remote working, how many days (if any) they would like to spend in the office in future, and what measures the company could put in place to support them.
It became clear that the team felt positively about remote working and the flexibility it affords, but still wanted some time in the office. And so that is what we will offer. A working week split flexibly between remote and office working. Employee wellbeing and workplace culture are ongoing processes of consultation, and so we will ensure that our policy evolves with their needs.
Enabling collaboration and creativity
As consultants, we have found that remote working tools have actually benefited, not hindered, our collaboration with clients. Before COVID hit, we were still relying on the fairly antiquated medium of teleconferencing to communicate with our clients. With video conferencing now a normalised aspect of the working day, the quality and quantity of our interactions with clients has greatly improved. In terms of supporting team-based interaction and collaboration, we are confident that a hybrid model will make us more agile and productive. An obligatory office-based culture encourages routine and can stifle creativity. By enabling our team to work flexibly, we hope to generate fresh energy and ideas.
One aspect of remote working that has been widely celebrated is the freedom it affords, particularly for those who work in the capital. We have tried to take this flexibility a step further. We are privileged to employ a very international team and have focused on ways to make our hybrid model work for them. We are exploring options such as time zone hubs and subsidies for employees abroad for short periods. This would provide our team with the flexibility of the growing digital NOMAD culture. From a leadership perspective, it is an attractive proposition that could help us recruit and retain top talent.
Leading by example
As we all know, the COVID crisis has served as a major catalyst for change. Progress that has been a long time coming in the pharma industry has finally taken place. As we emerge from the pandemic, it is vital that we keep pace. That doesn’t just mean innovation in R&D and clinical trials, but in the way we work across the industry. At Eradigm, we believe it is the perfect time for us to make this transition and set an industry example. As a young company, we have the luxury of agility. We have built a strong foundation but are not weighed down by it. By embracing, rather than resisting, cultural and organisational change, we can continue to push industry boundaries and be more bold, dynamic, and creative in the way that we operate.