From cleanrooms to corporate offices: finding efficiencies in pharma

Published on : 1/3/24
Reading time : 3 min
  • Cleanroom efficiency is critical, but for cost-conscious pharma companies there are bigger savings elsewhere. Unlocking them fast relies on strong partnerships.

    The smooth operation of cleanrooms is non-negotiable for pharmaceutical companies. Maximising their efficiency matters too, although tight controls mean that any changes to working practices must be managed with great care. Our pharma director, David Woodhouse, has supported the largest pharma companies in the industry. He explains that while cleanrooms are core to productivity and efficiency, there are bigger opportunities for fast cost savings elsewhere. 

    Daivd Woodhouse 1.jpgCleanroom efficiency goes to the heart of the pharma bottom line 

    Millions of people take tablets every day, but few realise the effort that goes into making them. Not the research and development effort, although that’s mind-boggling, but rather the design, operation and meticulous cleaning of the space where it was made. Cleanrooms are highly regulated production hubs that ensure patient safety and drive revenue. That makes their seamless operation fundamental to business performance. Controlling cost is equally vital, and companies will consider potential efficiencies in every function. But from the years I’ve spent looking after some of the biggest names in pharma, I’ve learnt that finding efficiencies in cleanrooms is a complex process.  

    Slick operating practices come from sticking to standards 

    As a rule, businesses respond to cost pressures by changing how they work or what they buy. The same can be said for cleanrooms, but the lead time is altogether different. Every aspect of design and operation is regulated. And not the sort of light-touch regulation you may find in other sectors. This is constant supervision for mutual benefit; product recalls can be catastrophic in more ways than one. 

    In my experience as a facilities director, success in pharma comes down to the fine detail. Agreed cleaning specifications must be rigidly adhered to, because any deviation could halt production on the spot. That’s why we use particular colour pens to confirm an area has been cleaned; it enables supervisors wearing full PPE to spot immediately if something’s missing. We check we’re following this procedure to the letter through self-inspection and regular training, and also share best practice across our large pharma client portfolio.  

    Cleanrooms are delicate ecosystems, which means even marginal efficiency gains will take time. But with fierce competition and a range of cost pressures, our clients are looking for something faster. 

    If there’s only wriggle-room in cleanrooms, where else can efficiencies be found?  

    In many ways, our clients in the pharmaceutical sector face the same cost pressures as other industries. These include post-Brexit niggles, inflation, the high cost of energy and particularly hybrid working. This can see parts of their estate fully serviced but underoccupied, with no simple solution in sight.  

    Across cleaning, food service, reception and logistics, enabling them to operate smoothly and efficiently is core to Sodexo’s role. First and foremost, this means adhering to strict quality standards and processes, supported by the right technologies and a strong safety culture. We also help them respond to new challenges collecting the right data, generating ideas and then working in partnership to bring them to life. 

    How the pharma industry can boost productivity yet still minimise cost 

    CleanRoomEffeciencyThe pharma estate is broadly split between corporate offices, manufacturing sites and R&D facilities. In R&D, where competition for talent is highest, we use continuous consumer research to shape delivery of exceptional workplace experiences. This means full concierge services, spotless facilities and themed food events with a growing focus on nutrition and provenance.  

    In manufacturing, we’re helping to reduce costs by switching to autonomous gyms, changing restaurant opening times and adjusting the food offer, all while supporting a high-functioning workplace. Cleanrooms, of course, are still cleaned and maintained to the highest standard.  

    Then in office spaces, we’ve been flexing our services to help clients meet the challenge of hybrid working. By gathering and analysing data on occupancy and footfall and changing working practices to match, we’ve enabled them to close whole blocks on particular days without affecting the staff experience. For one client, this change is expected to save almost £30,000 on cleaning and food and more than £50,000 in energy costs each year.  

    Innovating by turning data into insight  

    Outside of cleanrooms, we’re also piloting the use of sensors to help set cleaning schedules. The aim is to support a more task-based cleaning approach, which means only cleaning areas that have been used. We know from our earlier manual surveys that there could be significant efficiencies here. 

    Finding other efficiencies that don’t negatively affect employee engagement relies not only on data but also insight. Our approach to workplace transformation, Vital Spaces, blend our clients’ needs with employee expectations and the latest consumer trends. For example, we’re seeing post-pandemic hybrid working patterns demanding more informal, flexible spaces. Now teams are spending less time together, creating such spaces actively encourages collaboration and helps ignite new ideas. It’s a model that we’ve followed in our own London head office, and footfall data shows that productivity improves because of these social spaces, not in spite of them.  

    Finding opportunity in sustainability 

    Pharma companies facing cost pressures are facing environmental pressures too. Like all companies, they are looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions arising in their own operations and those in their supply chain. Through our net zero supplier engagement strategy, we have given our suppliers until 2030 to demonstrate meaningful progress on decarbonisation through published reporting. This will provide clients with clear data in support of their own net zero journey.  

    In our experience, sustainability and efficiency go hand in hand. The £50,000 energy saving that will come from closing that one office block, for example, equates to 80 tonnes of CO2.  

    Building trusted relationships to drive future efficiencies 

    Finding efficiencies for our pharma clients is very much a joint endeavour. We take the lead from their ambition and bring our own innovations to the table, whether that’s flexing our cleaning timetables without affect standards, adjusting menus or introducing new services to support recruitment. Each innovation is carefully crafted to meet the challenges they face in different parts of their estate, which makes cleanroom standards non-negotiable. But we have the data, technology and safety culture required to take a holistic approach and bring the right ideas to our clients, fast.  

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