How a Growing Pharma Blends Asynch, Real-time Communications to Boost Productivity

This is one of a series of Field Spotlights where I share experiences, tips and observations from company leaders who are fully immersed in the transformation to hybrid.

“In the last few years, we’ve acquired three other companies whose products complement ours. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve had to integrate certain operations without being able to work together, which was a very tough thing to do, though not impossible.”

Anne is a Senior Director, Medical Communications and Operations, Medical Affairs for a growing global pharmaceutical company. Her team is distributed across multiple locations and time zones, including Australia, the UK, Boston, California, Colorado and Seattle, with the critical mass located in the Boston area, home of the company’s North American headquarters. Here are some excerpts from our interview.

⏩ Although there are some overall company guidelines, each location/site tends to have its own, which is often specific to each manager and team. The main criteria: Who you need to engage with and where and when that can best be done. Employees in some offices, for example, have mostly been back to the office for a few months now, while others have returned only on an as-needed basis. People who have global roles tend to be remote, since their teams are widely distributed across multiple locations and time zones.

⏩ These days, most of my team members and I decide when we need to be in a company office, apart from one day each week, when the Boston-based contingent plans to convene together. People on my research team need access to the labs for their work and have been working onsite all along. Team members in other locations similarly can decide when, or if, to commute to company offices for work.

⏩ We encourage new hires to come into the office a few days each week and try to make sure other team members are present on those days. When new recruits interview for a spot on my team, many ask if the job can be fully remote, permanently. During COVID, one Boston-based employee moved across the country, and I have recently hired new team members in California and Colorado. Remote work is a permanent way of life for those who want it.

⏩ Scheduling team meetings is challenging, with people in California, Boston, the UK and Australia. The best time for most: 7 or 8 AM Eastern time, which makes it really tough for West Coast team members, although some do participate. All meetings are recorded so people can catch up on what they missed. These regularly-scheduled team meetings are the glue that keep the team connected.

⏩ One of the downsides of working remotely is the number of online “MS teams” meetings that fill our calendars. Many of us are faced with 5-10 back-to-back meetings each day, starting at 6AM and ending around 7 -8PM Eastern time. EU time zone colleagues end up on calls in the late evenings, often conflicting with dinner and bedtime for kids. When working with a local team in the office, we need fewer meetings because we can accomplish streamlined communication spontaneously, across cubicles, and resolve issues quickly without setting up a 30-minute meeting. Fewer “check in” meetings are needed.

⏩  Professional development opportunities abound for employees wherever they work. The “old” perspective is that you can’t progress if you’re not in the office. That’s not been true for us. All learning and project opportunities are easily available and accessible online. Where you work no longer has a correlation to how far you can progress in our company.

⏩ Team members who do similar work regularly schedule time to talk with their colleagues 1:1 or in small groups. This is a great way for people to create social bonds and share insights that others can learn from.

⏩ My team relies increasingly on asynch tools, mostly email and Teams, to make connections and create conversations across the team. It’s been a huge learning curve, and many people still need encouragement to get there.

⏩ Our HR VP reports that productivity has been consistently higher for remote folks since the pandemic started. Measuring productivity across teams hasn’t been easy. So much depends on the personality, communication styles and work habits, as well as the level of maturity of people you’re working with, and their drive and interest in what they’re doing. Some need more supervision and coaching than others.

⏩ As Covid becomes endemic…the expectation to travel for internal and external meetings has picked up considerably. It will be interesting to see the impact on the travel budget as remote workers are expected to travel more frequently for face-to-face meetings. It remains to be seen how we balance and prioritize business needs.

From where I sit, Anne and her company approach hybrid work in a way that makes sense for employees, departments, their patients, and the company as a whole, making the best use of both in-person and virtual worlds. Forward-thinking companies like Anne’s don’t see today’s workplace as either/or. Instead, they see it as an opportunity to rethink how, when, and where work gets done in the most effective, efficient and engaging way possible.

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