Mike Crosher, Managing Director at Chugai Pharma UK shares why employee engagement, and taking time out to nurture your team during the pandemic, is so important.
It seems that unprecedented times can last for much longer than expected. As the COVID-19 pandemic continued, the impact on our team was on my mind. As with many companies, we organised events to ensure we came together, including all-company Zoom meetings and virtual social events. In the first phase, these digital get-togethers were a cornerstone of our culture. A way of protecting everyone’s basic right to feel part of a safe, stable, and vibrant working environment. Now, our needs are evolving. As time moves on, our employees deserve a more sophisticated approach from pharma as we begin to learn and adapt to living under this crisis.
A great tranche of our work has transformed. Roles look unrecognisable. Take, for example, representatives – the principal point of contact between our business and customers. The role has always relied on face-to-face meetings to maintain relationships. At first, the crisis demanded that our field teams alter their approach as these avenues were no longer available. They used different channels to find a place where they could still add value to the healthcare environment. And perhaps as a result, almost a year in, we find ourselves reimagining the meaning of the role. Reviewing our success in 2020, we have seen that field teams provide more value than just face-to-face interaction with their customers. They have become trusted advocates and experts for the appropriate use of our medicines. Despite the change in methods to engage with customers and the rise of digital, our expert field teams are still the central thread through our business. They understand deeply our customers’ needs and how we can add ultimate value to patients.
Our work life has also transformed in the last few months. A survey by McKinsey from July this year1, found that remote-working had untold benefits for the employee experience. Teams that regularly worked from home felt more engaged and had a stronger sense of well-being than those in jobs with little flexibility. At the same time though, these statistics say something about our working experiences. Over 80% of respondents reported that the crisis was materially affecting their daily work lives – people have widely varied experiences, perspectives, and outcomes. I have personally found that feelings of isolation, managing care commitments, and health concerns can become even more of a challenge when you try to work alongside them from home.
“To maintain a healthy, happy, and productive team, we have established a culture where people can draw their own boundaries between work and home life”
As this crisis continues, it is more vital for us to understand these changing experiences than ever before. As Managing Director (MD), it has been my responsibility to create an open, available, and visible setting to address my employees’ most pressing needs. To maintain a healthy, happy, and productive team, we have established a culture where people can draw their own boundaries between work and home life. A trusting work environment, where people feel their concerns are heard and understood.
Trust and communication
When we initially went into lockdown, the first thing I did was to remind our team that we believe that they are doing a fantastic job. I told them I did not need to receive reports on how many people they had spoken to, how many materials they had developed, or what hours they had worked. I had faith that they would perform despite the challenges of lockdown and wanted to give them the space and freedom to do so.
I personally believe that working effectively and efficiently from home comes from having open conversations like this. This is easier for us than for most, because of our size. Even as MD, I can be close to every member of our team, know the names of their family members, their housemates, their pets. And not just because of interruptions to their video calls.
So, throughout the crisis, I have maintained an open line of communication with my team. I want people to feel that they can be fully transparent with me, and not just tell me what they think I want to hear. One of the things that we have lost in this crisis, is the ‘grabbing coffee’ conversation – those random chats where you really see the people you’re working with, and somehow get a truer sense of who they are and how they are feeling. We have tried to protect this as part of our culture, and I often spontaneously pick the phone up just to ask my team how they are.
Not to be confused with a stand-up routine, we launched ‘Open Mic with Mike’ earlier in the year. This was an idea suggested by my team – where people can dial in and get an informal business update, ask me anything they want, or just see some familiar faces that they may not have worked with recently. We have also appointed four mental health first aiders and have scheduled meetings for people within the organisation to openly speak about how they feel, and to find out more information about external organisations they can reach out to if they need to do so.
COVID-19 has been trying for us all. But these difficult times bring about opportunities for unthinkable change. COVID-19 is an opportunity for pharma to rethink the employee experience in ways that respect individual differences. An opportunity to re-imagine our roles, forge relationships based on trust rather than key performance indicators (KPIs) and create new opportunities for social interaction. This year, our efforts to protect our culture have been recognised in our independent accreditation as a ‘Great Place to Work’ by Great Places to Work® UK. And, now that we have a better understanding of how to manage COVID-19 and vaccines are being rolled out, we should not forget the lessons we have learned from this experience as we move forward.
Mike Crosher is Managing Director at Chugai Pharma UK. Go to www.chugai.eu
1 McKinsey & Company. COVID-19 and the employee experience: How leaders can seize the moment. Available at https://tinyurl.com/y455k5ds