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The future of life sciences – home working, digital engagement and remote trials

The future of life sciences – home working, digital engagement and remote trials

Richard Warren, CEO at RBW Consulting and chairman at Thorp Associates, outlines how life sciences companies can attract the right talent during a pandemic, and other major aspects post-COVID-19.

Covid-19 has accelerated the digital transformation of the life sciences industry. One of the most visible ways this has manifested itself is the sudden prevalence of remote working. The significant changes across the industry in the last few months have been a challenge but, in some ways, these quick reactions have accelerated innovation and flexible collaboration.

Remote interactions between healthcare professionals (HCPs) and pharma reps have substantially increased amid the Covid-19 crisis. With site access restricted and healthcare professionals under unimaginable pressure, the pharma industry needed to adapt to get HCPs the information they needed to treat patients efficiently and effectively. Recent research has revealed that HCPs often prefer virtual meetings because of their compliance, security and convenience1, signalling a long-term shift towards this model.

We’ve seen these changes emerge in real time through our work with virtual engagement platform, Within3. The company’s remote engagement work is especially important to the life sciences industry at the moment, but they have also been walking the walk for over 12 years with – every employee at Within3 works remotely.

Lance Hill, CEO at Within3 said: “There is a misconception that meaningful relationships and innovative collaboration can’t happen online but that isn’t true. It does, however, require the right technology and the right people who want to make it work.”

With three out of four workers wanting to work from home more often after lockdown, expectations have changed for the foreseeable future.

Use digital channels to engage digital native HCPs

It’s a similar story across industries, digital native HCPs are beginning to outnumber their older colleagues. The landscape is moving quickly, 70% of all HCPs are expected to be digital natives by the end of 2020. This younger generation has been integral in changing how sales reps engage with doctors, but COVID-19 created a more urgent need for the move away from face-to-face meetings and towards remote meetings, virtual events and informative emails.

Looking further ahead, the engagement model could change even more. In-person physician access may never return to pre-coronavirus levels. Field reps may need to permanently change to a more digital-centric model. This could result in reps adjusting their working hours so they’re available when doctors are most engaged with new content. Or maybe sales teams will become more reliant on bespoke content as HCPs expect more real-world evidence on potential treatments.

Companies that pivoted quickly during COVID-19 will have an advantage in setting their sales functions up for success, whatever the future of rep engagement looks like.

Remote clinical trials can drive time and cost efficiencies

Clinical research has always been rooted in face-to-face engagements. Patients are usually treated at specific sites, HCPs administer treatments and monitor patients in person, and external regulatory and quality professionals visit sites for inspections.

Making trials more flexible with specific aspects carried out remotely has been gaining traction and remote monitoring has been ideally placed for a digital overhaul. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has even encouraged sponsors to consider more efficient monitoring methodologies. In the last few years, the cost of bringing a new treatment to market doubled from $1.1 billion in 2010 to $2.1 billion in 2018, with on-site monitoring contributing to a significant portion of those costs.

Life science companies are now resuming the life-saving research that was stalled at the peak of COVID-19 and widespread lockdowns, now is the time to move to more remote trials to help reduce the burden on patients, HCPs and CRAs. This remote focus will reduce costs and improve efficiencies, but even more importantly, it could open up trials to a wider range of patients and improve the work-life balance of trial administrators.

Embrace a global workforce will for diversity and innovation

Over 1.5 million UK employees are working from home due to lockdown and social distancing. However, this number is expected to increase significantly by 2022, when it is predicted that 60% of employees will be remote.

This has many implications but one of the most exciting is a future job market where applicants will be much less restricted by their location. As a search agency, we have already seen companies open their talent pool to candidates from different cities, countries and continents. This globalisation of work has its challenges, but COVID-19 related lockdowns have proven how adaptable people can be. A remote workforce can be just as, or even more, collaborative than office-based teams.

Hiring with a more location-agnostic mindset encourages greater diversity. Diversity introduces new perspectives and ideas which can lead to greater innovation. Life sciences organisations that can make the most of the best talent around the world will have a greater chance of success, particularly when expanding into new markets.

On top of the benefits to the company, employees have grown to appreciate the working from home experience. Nearly a third of workers report a better work-life balance when working from home.

Hill aded: “It’s crucial to look after your staff, whether remote or office based. During the peak of COVID-19, our client success team were working incredibly hard to make sure all our customers had the tools they needed to succeed. We wanted to show our appreciation to this team so we provided childcare reimbursement, extra time off, and surprise bonuses. These are relatively simple measures to take but show our team that we care.”

Training the remote workforce of the future

The life-sciences industry will need to continually upskill its workforce to benefit from the digital and data-driven technologies that support remote working.

A key focus of future training will be empowering people to take control of their own learning and development. Trust is an important aspect of any remote workforce and should also be applied to personal training programs. This helps employees feel appreciated, this trust then leads to increased productivity as individuals are aware of their personal strengths and weaknesses.

Even remotely, people learn from people. A community can be created online with the right culture in place. With remote workers, working and learning goes beyond a common location, people might bond over supporting different teams of the same sport or playing the same video games. Virtual social moments like team lunches or calling a colleague over a cup of tea can make a huge difference in spontaneous learning and collaboration.

Hill said: “As home working becomes a more popular option around the world, companies may have to adjust to make sure they don’t miss out on any of the ‘spontaneous interactions’ that can happen at an office. This can be addressed by making sure everyone has an equal voice and feels they can query or challenge everything. Meaning people can proactively reach out to someone to ask why we’re doing something or offer some feedback. Not only does this make people more involved in what we’re pushing to achieve as a company, it also encourages more open discussions and innovation.”

People do their best work when they’re proud of what they do and the who they work for. Companies who listen to their employees and deftly adapt to new technologies, optimising remote engagement, will be able to recover quickly once the industry settles into its future normal.

Med-Tech Innovation

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