How life science companies are adopting flex work

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December 15, 2021

After a wildly unpredictable year, companies in the life sciences industry that participated in Mercer's 2021 Flexible Working Policies and Practices survey revealed significant workplace changes. As we've seen with other industries, the life sciences industry must examine the adjustments made in a time of disruption and determine how to move forward, especially for flexible work arrangements.

The life science industry includes:

  • Agricultural Sciences
  • Animal Health
  • Biotechnology
  • Contract Healthcare Services
  • Medical Devices
  • Pharmaceutical

Mercer's survey findings show an overwhelming increase in flexible working in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic times. Greater flexibility has been achieved by the Life Sciences companies surveyed through the implementation of many changes; however, despite these changes, only 4% of the companies surveyed reported decreased productivity.

Companies need to review what actions have been taken, what initiatives are currently being worked on, and how this flexibility can be made more permanent in the future.

Get flexible with flex work

Flexibility is not entirely new to the life sciences industry. Before the pandemic, roughly 73% of companies offered flextime, which gave the employee the ability to shift the start or stop times for work. Employees predominately performed work at the company lab or office space.

During the pandemic, 65% of life sciences companies responding to the survey implemented new full-time remote working arrangements for those functions where it was possible. The nature of work performed determined how companies implemented remote work. Some research organizations could work from home because all research and modeling were done on a computer, while others (mainly manufacturing) needed all manufacturing and Research and Development staff on-site. Collaborative or administrative work that previously required in-person meetings could be done virtually and across a wider area, leading to faster innovation cycles.

A technology-enabled approach to work in the life sciences industry removes barriers to working remotely. Greater use of technology-based research, modeling, and simulation, which is crucial to remote working, is also gaining greater acceptance with regulatory affairs. The wider acceptance and integration in the workspace provides more flexibility for employers and employees to achieve high productivity without losing work-life balance.

Hybrid remote work for the life sciences industry

As companies redefine their businesses using telemedicine, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, having the right talent with the right skills has never been more significant.

An astounding 87% of life science companies plan to offer part-time remote "hybrid" models in the future. The key to a successful hybrid working arrangement is in matching the work with the best environment. For example, lab samples may not be grown at home, but what types of work can be performed remotely?

Among the life science companies responding to the survey, 61% said that the nature of work would drive the type of work requirements. Most companies want a minimum level of office attendance but are willing to offer 1 to 2 days of flex, where appropriate for the role. Ideally, giving employees more ownership of work schedules can help strengthen employee engagement, leading to greater company productivity.

Flexible work implementation considerations

Continuous demand for products and services from the life sciences industry, coupled with advancements in research technology, have contributed to the industry's resilience

As stated above, many companies were forced to move to a full-time remote work model in response to the pandemic. Now that companies have a better handle on how work will be managed going forward, more-significant consideration can be given to the other areas of employment that affect employee satisfaction.

In general, flexible working programs can open up larger talent pools for employers, present relocation opportunities for employees, and offer an effective way to manage expenses. One big question employers are considering is whether geographical differentials should be applied to pay for employees who have changed their residence from where they used to live before working remotely, such as moving to a different state.

Get the data you need to recruit new talent, manage employee moves, or evaluate your pay structures with the most reliable salary and relocation data available.

Check out the full survey results with additional details, speak to our flex experts, and let Mercer help you ensure that your future is bright.