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The Future of Work: Home or Away?

Words by Michaila Byrne

Viral videos of troublesome toddlers crashing news reports and meetings have become a charming source of wholesome entertainment during the COVID-19 pandemic, reminding us of the humorous but hard reality that employees working from home face. Whether you have contently set up shop at home or are restless to escape your four walls, the pandemic is forcing us all to consider what we want the future of work to look like. When social distancing ends, where will pharmaceutical companies view their future offices: home or away?

Distributed working has been a balancing act between three key things: sustaining productivity, maintaining company culture, and prioritising employee well-being. If there’s one main standout positive of working from home, it is a greater sense of autonomy over key lifestyle factors, such as where an employee lives, travel costs, and time management. “I don’t think when the pandemic is over everyone is going to say, ‘okay let’s go back to our normal lives’. I think people and customers are going to change and will want to interact in a different way, and we need to be prepared for that,” says Mircea Cubillos, Vice President Haematology EMEA, Commercial Strategy Lead, Janssen.

A consensus appears to be that although we are physically distant, in the workplace we are massively improving on our communication, as Karen Moyse, Founder and Managing Director, KineticFuture Leadership, puts it: “I think there’s been a lot of really good work done by the pharma industry on communicating remotely. People are perhaps having better communications now than before we went into lockdown.” The last 12 months have spawned new habits in all of us, but it is up to us to decide which are healthy and which should be broken. “I hope to maintain some of the new habits when restrictions are lifted because I feel we are innovating more, we are communicating better, we are collaborating non-stop, and we can’t stop that,” says Cubillos.

Minimising our carbon footprint is an often cited positive, but additional considerations such as increased usage of heating and electricity need to be accounted for. Sir Andy Haines, Professor, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, outlines: “Working at home is fine if you have a pleasant home to work from. If you are in poor circumstances, then working at home may not be feasible.” He goes on to highlight energy costs, and how these factors are all interconnected: “We need to address those inequalities.” We may be weathering the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat.

Simple actions such as reminding leaders to facilitate informal as well as formal interactions and to keep their cameras turned on can aid in ensuring new employees are integrated into their teams with ease. Moyse points out: “There are some people now on teams who have never met their colleagues, so you need to think about your communication strategy, how you as a leader want to turn up each day.”

Individuals may be free from arduous commutes and the distractions of office life, but we must ask ourselves what is being lost and can it be replicated or replaced? The future of work appears to lie in understanding that employees are individuals with their own unique sets of challenges, differences, and preferences and therefore being able to offer tailored approaches could be the answer. Naturally, this depends on the nature of the work and company cultures, but it opens up the debate of what may be conducive to the optimal living–working situation for all.

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