Hiring at a Distance, the Realities of Pandemic Hiring

As we continue to navigate COVID-19, many of the biggest names in pharma and biotech are experiencing staffing shortages and hiring challenges brought on by the global pandemic.

| September 16, 2021


Hiring Trends for Biotech, Pharma & Life Sciences Companies

As we continue to navigate COVID-19, many of the biggest names in pharma and biotech are experiencing staffing shortages and hiring challenges brought on by the global pandemic. In some cases, that meant shifting priorities. After a vaccine-development collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline failed to deliver results, the French giant Sanofi invested well over $1 billion in a set of ambitious expansions in Canada and Singapore. Simultaneously, the company announced closures, including a Pennsylvania plant in April and a Massachusetts facility in February. Likewise, Lonza, a Swiss company manufacturing a component of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, hit such severe personnel shortfalls that they started recruiting staff from Nestlé research centers on an emergency, short-term basis.

However, a more sustainable trend has been to shift on hiring for flexible and remote work. At Novartis, a hybrid work initiative launched in July of last year is here to stay. As a result, the company is exploring options to downsize or share existing office spaces. Pfizer has described almost identical challenges. Many of its employees have expressed a preference for continued flexibility and optionality for working from home – at least part-time. The company recently decided to sell its office space in Philadelphia – fit for 2,000 employees. And at Moderna, a company with a long history of location-based hiring, remote work is now part of its new normal.

Increasingly, the hiring trend for most biotech, pharma, and life sciences companies globally is to stay open to remote work. Even in companies that cannot offer full (or partial) remote work, their hiring processes are often conducted virtually due to the potential risk of in-person visits.

5 Best Practices for Hiring Remotely

Significant travel disruptions paired with restrictive guidelines for face-to-face meetings indoors have forced abrupt changes to the typical recruitment process. However, after more than a year of delivering on global searches under pandemic conditions, we have generated a few best practices for hiring managers to keep top of mind based on the companies getting it right.

1. Learn to trust videoconferencing, but use it correctly.

Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and their competitors are not simple replacements for in-person interviews. These tools were used for virtual hiring long before the pandemic, and there’s no reason not to rely on them now. But they work best if paired with other forms of assessment and trust-building strategies.

2. There are cases where on-site interviews cannot be eliminated.

This situation frequently arises, most frequently, in manufacturing, where candidates often cannot evaluate the site and its work conditions without seeing it themselves. Therefore, to mitigate any COVID-19 risk, consider virtual factory tours or a carefully coordinated and socially distanced visit on a non-production day.

3. Review the availability of remote work options.

This includes policies around absences, access to necessary equipment and support, and scheduling meetings and other events. Consider making these measures permanent if they yield positive results, and remember to include any boosts to the brand image in your analysis.

4. Broaden your search radius.

Now that your company is set up for remote work don’t forget to broaden your search radius for new hires. Reliable remote-work infrastructure gives some companies access to top-tier talent that might otherwise have been out of reach in the past.

5. Adjust your onboarding process.

Finally, your onboarding strategy also needs to be adjusted to account for the peculiarities of the virtual environment. For example, consider welcome packages with company products and equipment, host organized group video sessions, and coordinate regularly scheduled times for socializing and checking in. The lack of downtime around the office makes these measures essential to integrate new hires into existing teams properly.

Above all, ensure that your hiring practices are prioritizing innovation and candidate engagement. Talent acquisition partners can be helpful by supporting you with ready-made tools and procedures to help overcome the barriers imposed by remote work. As the global economy continues to recover, and as companies start to rehire workers who were furloughed or let go, the most important thing you can do is stay open-minded and adapt quickly.

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