a group of employees enjoying a meal together

How reshaping the pharma workplace can maximise connection and creativity

Published on : 1/28/24
Reading time : 5 min
  • The pharma industry thrived during the pandemic, aligning R&D, manufacturing and management functions to deliver solutions at unprecedented pace and scale. Yet it emerged to a range of new challenges, like inflation, Brexit, the end of exclusive patents and a costly war for talent. With product innovation now even more vital for success, companies are turning to workplace innovation to create an employee experience that’s primed for growth.

    The pharma workforce is feeling the pressure in the post-pandemic world

    The industry was in the eye of the storm during the pandemic, working flat out through the furlough to help keep people safe. Like employees in other vital sectors, they came under immense pressure and levels of burnout rose as a result. Yet when the storm subsided, other challenges began to rise, including costs as a result of inflation and Brexit.  

    But just as importantly, life changed too. People all over the world made sudden career switches, reevaluated their goals and searched for greater meaning through their choice of role and employer. And although manufacturing sites and labs got back to the full occupancy relatively quickly, other parts of the pharma workforce stayed at home for longer. But regardless of where they work, how they think about work has changed.

    Dealing with the impact of hybrid working and ‘quiet quitting’  

    In our latest Worklife Experience Tracker conducted with YouGov, we found 1 in 5 working adults dealing with poor mental and physical health, 20% being ‘quiet quitters’ and 23% being open about wanting to quit. The respondents might work in offices, R&D facilities, warehouses or call centres, but the struggle was universal. 

    Overall, we also found 58% of people chose a hybrid working environment when they had the opportunity. They see it as saving time and money, providing a better work-life balance and giving them more space to focus. And while homeworking didn’t cause corporate productivity to collapse, as was initially feared, it took away the connections on which innovation, creativity and happiness depend. Even when people are back in the workplace most of the time, they still need easy opportunities to connect.

    Creating a sense of connection to spark ‘lightbulb’ moments

    Two female scientists in lab coats conducting an experiment with a test tube.Pharmaceutical companies rely on committed and creative people working together to think the unthinkable. These people need to feel happy at work, and having the chance to socialise is a vital ingredient. In fact, our research showed that socialising was one of the top motivations for coming to the office even when you don’t have to. Because while many of us welcomed the flexibility of homeworking, it brought with it a sense of disengagement. For graduates who joined the workforce for the first time during lockdown, for example, the lack of a social anchor made disengagement the norm.

    While labs rely on collaboration as they test and develop new products, much of the work can be solitary. But in this post-pandemic word, the pharma industry can’t rely on passively enabling social contact then expecting commercial success to follow; they need to actively encourage it.  

    Introducing workplace innovations that attract and retain talent

    In Sodexo’s own HQ, we proved that social spaces boost satisfaction, and it’s an approach that sits at the heart of our Vital Spaces offer. To encourage people back to the office, we moved away from banks of desks and lines of meeting rooms and built the space people wanted, blending collaborative, open or focused workspaces with ten different types of seating. We invested in seamless tech too, making connecting to AV equipment as easy as joining an online call from a sofa. Within two weeks, occupancy had risen from 35% to 50% and satisfaction had risen to 4.8 out of 5.  

    In life as well as work, much of our contact is centred around food. Good food provides reasons to make those first connections and then keep them going. But as consumer needs change, the food offer needs to catch up. 

    Using food to bring people together, whenever they choose

    Today’s employees are looking for delicious, contemporary and health-conscious dishes at work. But with the concept of the lunch hour disappearing rapidly, they often head to the high street to find what they need when they need it. So how can companies deliver the right food at the right time?  

    The answer lies in flexible, all-day dining that’s designed to create connections. Our signature offer, Modern Recipe, brings the taste, choice and convenience of the high street into the heart of the office. Its menus are full of delicious, healthy dishes made with responsibly-sourced ingredients. Its layouts and formats can be endlessly adapted to embed social spaces into the pharma workplace, with restaurants, pantries and quality coffees and snacks available all day. It integrates the latest tech too, using data to meet the needs of the modern employee and to track their changing needs in the future.

    Using the digital world to provide certainty in uncertain times

    Although the pharmaceutical industry is facing a whole range of challenges, the clients that work with us on digital food transformation can see the performance of their workplace reflected in hard numbers. They can see that their employees are actively choosing healthier dishes when given the chance.  

    Here’s Mark Hills, our director of digital transformation:  

    “The digital world can turn data into meaningful insight, improving employer decision-making and also employee engagement. Displaying information on the carbon emissions from the previous week’s consumption, for example, matches consumers’ growing desire for action on climate change and gives them agency to be part of that action. From carbon to calories and from footfall to dwell time, we’re collecting 50 million data points per month. By the end of 2024, we’ll be looking at five times that amount, and it’s going to add real value.” 

    Staying cost-conscious through the change

    Our pharma clients are still facing a raft of cost pressures, and we’re helping to bring them down by matching the workplace ever tighter to what today’s employees are looking for. By tracking office usage carefully, for example, we’re enabling one-day closures in underused facilities, saving tens of thousands in labour and energy costs to enable continued investment in the workplace experience.  

    At a time when competition for talent – and market share – has never been more intense, innovating workplace food, space and tech can create the right conditions for a happy, productive and creative pharma workforce.  

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