How are Life Sciences Companies Navigating Return-to-Work?

May 26, 2021

By Ben Bradford, Vice President of Economic Development & Membership, MassBio

Throughout the pandemic, much of the life sciences continued to work in-person. Routines, schedules, and safety protocols may have changed, but those working in labs, in manufacturing, in distribution, and beyond did their part toward improving patient health. 

Now, as statewide COVID-19 cases decrease and Massachusetts moves closer to a full reopening on May 29, our member companies are navigating how to get their teams back to the “next normal,” at full capacity.

To get a clearer sense of how our member companies planned to respond to these changes, we sent our members’ leadership a survey about their return-to-office plans. This survey was conducted between May 6 and May 16 prior to the announcement of Massachusetts’ full reopening date of May 29.* Employers who responded to the survey represent 14,000 employees across Massachusetts. And on average, these companies employ 250 people.     

Of the 58 companies that responded there were clear trends that we believe will be informative for all companies:

  • 59% of companies anticipate having their remote employees return to the office by Q3 2020 with an additional 33% of respondents targeting Q4 2021, and only 5% waiting until 2022
  • 68% are planning to allow in-person interaction between their staff and external parties (i.e. in-person meetings)
  • Only 31% are mandating employees to be vaccinated in order to return to the office

Our respondents, senior leadership from life sciences companies primarily in the Cambridge, Boston, and Waltham areas, are all considering lessons learned from the pandemic, especially about the feasibility of continued remote work. Similar to other industries, most survey respondents are considering hybrid work environments, but a large majority (63%) say remote/in-office scheduling will be on an employee-by-employee basis. That’s not surprising considering how many positions can’t work remotely. Overall, 53% of employers said they plan to allow less than a quarter of employees to work remotely permanently after the pandemic. Senior leaders said that they anticipate their business development teams are most likely to maintain a remote work schedule.

Despite these staffing shifts, 88% of employers said that they aren’t planning to reduce office space. Echoing some of the significant shifts we’ve seen over the course of the pandemic, employers said their employees’ top concerns about the return to in-person work included their safety, commute length, and preserving the work/life balance they achieved over the last year and a half.

While there’s no playbook for how life sciences organizations can plan for an uncertain future, our recent survey results show that the industry is moving towards normalcy, with an emphasis on supporting the wellbeing of employees. While we will determine MassBio’s plan for the return of in-person activities, we encourage our members to continue to join our upcoming virtual events to connect and collaborate with the life sciences ecosystem.

*In light of Governor Baker’s announcement, some companies’ timetables and policies may have changed since the collection of this data.

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