Life sciences companies have faced myriad challenges over the last 14 months trying to manage staffing and operational challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: what positions can work remotely vs. who must work in-person; how to effectively integrate new hires onto a remote team; how to best conduct clinical trials, investor, and partnering meetings virtually – to name just a few. Many of these challenges were unique to the life sciences, primarily because of the need for so many employees to continue to work on-site in labs and manufacturing facilities.
Now, after all state-level COVID restrictions were lifted in Massachusetts on May 29, every company has been rushing to implement a new set of protocols outlining the rules and regulations for a return to office. Some of these decisions are compliance and legal based regarding vaccination and masking requirements. Some are more operational to ensure a fully functioning business. But many seek to establish a new company culture through the creation of new and updated hybrid and remote working policies. Determining what these policies will be is not straightforward, but we know these policies will have an impact on a company’s culture, including how employees view and experience inclusion and equity.
Going forward, continued remote and hybrid work can have a significant impact on inclusive culture just as it did throughout the pandemic. When establishing new policies about when and where employees are expected to work, companies should be focusing on inclusion, setting policies that are intentional about making all employees feel part of the team regardless of where they are working. Employees want to believe their ideas are heard and their actions seen. They want to feel a sense of belonging, and different populations will have different desires. These are not new concepts, but with a long-term view of many employees working remotely all or some of the time, creating and maintaining an inclusive culture will be a bigger challenge.
A similar dynamic is at play when approaching equity and hybrid work environments. Managers must carefully consider a range of issues to ensure their direct reports are treated equitably, including such things as how to provide employees access to professional development, network-building opportunities, and career advancement. There are also equality considerations especially around performance reviews and ensuring managers are evaluating all employees, in the same manner, no matter if they are predominantly on-site or working remotely.
To that end, companies should look carefully at the decision-making process for new hybrid/remote work policies and consider setting up a special committee to form, assess, and update policies, as necessary. This process should ensure that a broad range of stakeholders from the company have a chance to provide input including a diverse range of employees and positions. Companies could also choose to integrate discussion about this topic into existing ED&I-related committees or company employee resource groups (ERGs). In addition, employee feedback will be critical once these policies are put in place. Employee engagement surveys can be expanded to only seek feedback about both ED&I-related issues directly and about how employees think remote/hybrid work is impacting company culture.
Done right, these new policies will increase equity and inclusion at life sciences companies. They may even give companies a competitive advantage and allow them to diversify their staff more easily by hiring remote workers from non-local candidate pools.