Home Office in Pharma: what happens next after COVID.

Home office in the pharmaceutical industry will remain after the pandemic. This article looks at the regulations of the big players in the industry.

After the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to be almost over in people's minds in the summer with low case numbers and available vaccination, the virus has Germany firmly in its grip again this winter. In other countries, too, the number of infections is rising rapidly again. This is due, among other things, to the decreasing vaccination effectiveness in combination with the delta variant, which requires a booster vaccination after five to six months, the still relatively high number of unvaccinated people and the appearance of new virus variants such as Omikron. Home office is therefore currently the safest solution for employees in almost all sectors.

Life after the pandemic.

Even though it seems a long way off at the moment, we can already venture a glimpse of what life will be like after the pandemic. The fact is that the lifestyle before the pandemic cannot be restored. At least not the way we were used to until then. The virus has forced us to leave our comfort zone and adapt to a new "normality".

Challenge Home Office in Pharma.

The pharmaceutical industry faces a double challenge. On the one hand, companies must prevent the spread of the virus to protect the physical and mental health of employees. On the other hand, pharmaceutical production is subject to much stricter conditions in order to deliver drugs on time and in the right quality. Managers in the pharmaceutical industry have to deal with this balancing act permanently in order to solve the dilemma.

One of the most important decisions is whether and how to continue the home office scheme introduced at the beginning of the pandemic.

According to the author's research, the pharmaceutical industry is leaning towards a hybrid model where employees stay in the home office but can return to the office when needed. Hybrid working allows for more flexible working while maintaining the importance of the office as a place for collaboration and personal interaction. However, this does not apply to all sectors: Production and laboratory activities are not affected by all regulations, as these activities cannot be managed and controlled from home.

Future variants of home office arrangements in Pharma*:

Home office pharma
*based on research by the author

Regulations for Home Office in Pharma.

Bayer: "About 40 % of the Bayer workforce in Germany worked remotely during the pandemic. For these employees, Bayer has organised a 'step-by-step' return to the office starting last summer, but only a maximum of 40 % of the jobs may be filled."

Roche: "Employees have the option of 2-3 home office days, while the rest is spent in the office."

Merck: "The Darmstadt-based pharmaceutical company describes itself as a pioneer of mobile working. This has already had an extremely positive effect on the first closure in spring 2020. At the same time, work in production and in the laboratories continues on site the whole time."

Sanofi: "Sanofi relies on a hybrid model with a tendency to work on site. Mobile working was already possible before the pandemic. However, it was not the usual practice. Even though home office worked well, the time had come when direct on-site exchange was again desired and sought."

Boehringer Ingelheim: "Employees who can do their work well from home will continue to work in the home office. They can return to the office after completing the home office commitment, but must always coordinate this closely with their supervisor. In addition, the number of people allowed to be at the site at any one time will continue to be limited."

AbbVie, AstraZeneca, J&J and Bristol Myers Squibb: "Implementing a 'phased approach' to returning employees to the office."

GlaxoSmithKline: "GSK advises those who can work from home to continue to do so. Any changes to this guidance will be gradual, in line with local health policies and country-specific government regulations."

Novartis: "In future, employees will be able to decide in consultation with their superiors whether they want to return to the office, work part-time or work entirely at home. Novartis calls this model 'Choice with responsibility'."

Amgen: "Amgen offers its 24,000 employees the opportunity to work in their home office. Employees are free to choose the way they work, so that everyone can find their ideal workplace. Research and laboratory work can also be done remotely to a certain extent, of course with a sophisticated system behind it. Production work is currently (still) done by employees who cannot work from home. But this is also to be worked on. One possibility would be an automation system for production that can be controlled remotely by the employees."

Eli Lilli: "Eli Lilli has already set a target to get a quarter of the staff back in the office by early June 2021. If the pandemic situation worsens again, they would pull the emergency brake, but the goal is to return to the office routine as much as possible. If employees cannot come to the office for personal reasons, they can work from home. In addition, not all employees are classified the same. This means that some employees may spend more time in the office than others, depending on the task."

B. Braun: "B. Braun recently introduced a new company agreement that has been in force since July 2021. It is called "flexible and mobile working" and regulates both office hours and the possibility to work in a home office."

Home Office in Pharma. Summary.

Covid-19 is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis, and the role that pharmaceutical companies play in this crisis is essential and crucial. In response to the crisis, pharmaceutical industry leaders should monitor the situation and act quickly to better prepare for the post-Covid era.
Literature.

  1. Liu (2020): 2021 forecast: 'We will not return to the old ways of working': Drug makers weigh in on returning to work, post-COVID-19 life, available at: https://www.fiercepharma.com/pharma/we-will-not-return-to-old-ways-working-drugmakers-weigh-returning-to-work-post-covid-life, date retrieved, 12.10.21
  2. Hessenschau (2021): Viele hessische Unternehmen wollen hybrid arbeiten, erreichbar unter:
    https://www.hessenschau.de/wirtschaft/ende-der-homeoffice-pflicht-viele-hessische-unternehmen-wollen-hybrid-arbeiten,testpflicht-ende-100.html
    , retrieval date 12.10.21
  3. SWR (2021): So gehen Arbeitgeber in Rheinland-Pfalz jetzt mit dem Homeoffice um, abrufbar unter:
    https://www.swr.de/swraktuell/rheinland-pfalz/homeofficepflicht-endet-100.html
    , retrieval date: 12.10.21
  4. .Reidel (2021): Novartis offers home office forever https://www.horizont.net/schweiz/nachrichten/new-work-novartis-bietet-home-office-fuer-immer-an-184532, date retrieved: 12.10.21
  5. HNA (2021): Homeoffice-Pflicht endet - Erfahrungen von Arbeitgebern im Altkreis Melsungen, https://www.hna.de/lokales/melsungen/melsungen-ort45520/wir-gefuehl-entsteht-langsamer-90843166.html, Abrufdatum: 12.10.21
  6. ePharmaInsider (2021): Office comeback to be expected in the pharmaceutical industry? https://www.epharmainsider.com/office-comeback-in-der-pharmabranche-zu-erwarten/, retrieval date: 12.10.21

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