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The Case for Working Remotely: Pharmacovigilance Professionals in the US

Date: 19 March 2018

Introduction 

Pharmacovigilance professionals already work virtually. Whether liaising with patients and healthcare providers to collate data or reporting to regulatory agencies, pharmacovigilance professionals are communicating through global channels to best provide an overview of a product’s benefit-risk profile. Remote work is a natural step for this profession, yet we find some companies and hiring-managers apprehensive to embrace this style of employment. At EPM Scientific, we believe that by considering and hiring remote workers you can expand your talent pool, improve productivity and retention, and save money – all while being one step ahead of the competition.

Why the fear? 

It’s human nature to be apprehensive of the unknown. While telecommuting may appear to be uncharted territory, 37% of the US workforce already telecommutes occasionally and 3% – 4 million employees – work at least half of the time from home (a 115% increase since 2005). These roles are not being occupied by stay-at-home parents either; the average US telecommuter is 49 years old, college educated, and commands an annual salary of $58,000.

The Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services industries have the highest volume of telecommuters (17%), relative to their share of the workforce, and this percentage is only expected to grow. Many life science companies are already offering flexible and remote working arrangements. In the pharmaceutical and life sciences company Bayer AG, for example, 75% of its employees telecommute. Baxter, Allergan, and Novartis all offer part or fulltime
telecommuter positions.

Another concern we often hear from hiring managers is that they might lose control of their remote workers if they are unable to see them working. Yet in the office, managers are rarely leering over an employee’s shoulder for 8 hours and the work still gets done. As long as managers set clear objectives and guidelines, and provide the appropriate tools, remote workers should be able to accomplish their goals with no added effort. Whether in the
office or at home, managers have to trust that their employees will manage their time effectively.

Don Klaproth, previous Senior Director of US Drug Safety at Sanofi, gave testament to the positive potential of remote working, stating that Sanofi had successfully implemented remote work-from-home arrangements: “I saw a quote recently that went something like ‘when you treat individuals with respect they usually respond in-kind’. That thought was the cornerstone of our approach. Did we ever have a situation where someone needed a little “encouragement”? Sure, but it was a quick-fix”.

A further misconception about remote working by employers is that it’s all or nothing. Work arrangements need to be dynamic and adjust to the individual and company’s mutual needs and desired outcomes. Though possible, it is rare that an employee will never show their face in the office. Indeed, employers and remote workers alike usually want to ‘touch base’ in person on a weekly or fortnightly basis. Even for those rare few, communication is vital to avoid making remote workers feel like they are out of the loop – video and live chats are great tools to ensure that a telecommuter feels engaged as a human being and not just an android behind a screen, imperative to fostering and retaining loyalty.

Be ahead of the curve

As the use of digital technologies accelerates across the life sciences, at EPM Scientific we believe that companies and hiring managers should not be asking why they should employ remote workers, but why not. Cloud computing, for example, offers scalable and therefore more affordable platforms for post-marketing drug safety. By allowing more comprehensive and consistent storing and analysis of Big Data, cloud computing has the potential to revolutionize and improve the pharmacovigilance sector. In a recent study by the IBM Institute for Business Value, over half of life science execs surveyed said that they plan to adopt cognitive computing for pharmacovigilance within the next three years.

As pharmacovigilance adopts cloud computing software, it makes sense that the way a company’s employees work reflects how a company’s systems operate. Any employee with internet access, via a virtual desktop or remote infrastructure, can work remotely. As Alejandra Guerchicoff, a Senior Director at International Partnership for Microbicides who works remotely, commented, “All pharmacovigilance jobs can be performed remotely, regardless of seniority level. There isn’t much different from working in office”. Getting a head start by being an early adopter will provide a competitive advantage over other companies.

Why candidates want it 

At EPM scientific we have noticed a trend in candidates increasingly seeking work from home opportunities across all market verticals we cover. Working remotely affords candidates a better work-life balance, cuts down on commute times, and even increases the amount of potential work opportunities for candidates bound to a specific geographic location (also creating a larger pool of qualified candidates for employers). In addition, many offices have started to eliminate physical barriers such as cubicles to create a more ‘open’ feel, hoping that this will increase communication among employees, but this comes as a distraction to many employees that work better in a quiet setting.

The ability to work from home affords candidates the opportunity to eliminate anything that they find as a distraction to their work, thus increasing productivity. While many of these benefits of working remotely are shared across many industries there are unique challenges to working in certain pharmacovigilance positions that make working remotely even more desired by candidates.

As a senior level pharmacovigilance professional it is common to liaise with colleagues around the globe to discuss signals detected in aggregate data from adverse events requiring late-night conference calls to discuss these findings. If Pharmacovigilance candidates have the ability to work remotely this can provide much-needed work-life balance to individuals having to work during atypical work hours. These are just a few of the reasons why life science professionals, and specifically PV professionals, desire remote job opportunities.

Company Benefits 

1. A Wider Talent Pool

Employing remote workers means that the talent pool is as long as a piece of string or, more literally, as long as an internet cable and as strong as a WiFi signal. In our report, “Smart People Have Choices” we found that while talented candidates were open to moving domestically, 42% said they would not consider relocating internationally for a job. While a specific role may require some in-person meetings, remote workers are not restricted by geography and a company can tap previously unharnessed talent from all over the world. An added bonus is the cost-saving potential, if a company is based in an area with a high cost of living, hiring managers may be able to negotiate lower salaries because a worker no longer needs to relocate.

2. Better Productivity and Retention

Studies have shown that home-based employees are more productive. A 9-month study led by a Stanford University professor found a 13% performance increase in remote worker’s productivity. They also worked more time per shift and took fewer breaks and sick leave. In conjunction with increased employee satisfaction, remote working may also increase the retention of staff who are happier and less stressed. In a recent study by PGi, 82% of workers surveyed reported that telecommuting reduced their stress levels and 80% said that they had improved morale. Considering that replacing a lost member of staff is so expensive – conservative estimates suggest it costs 1.5-2x the role’s annual salary – the possibilities of remote working are something that companies and hiring managers cannot afford to ignore.

3. Saves Money

It’s common sense, having fewer people in the office reduces the amount of space needed. Remote working also reduces the number of utilities and costs such as paper, stationery, and other small amenities that add up over time. For example, the US health care company Aetna has 47% of its workforce working remotely, which has saved $78 million by reducing office space. Likewise, American Express saves between $10-15 million annually in real estate by increasing remote working. Remote working can also potentially save money by offering inexpensive compliance for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Global Workplace Analytics estimates that the average real
estate savings with full-time telework is $10,000/employee/year.

As digital disruption continues, companies and hiring managers have the opportunity to pre-empt the cultural shift towards remote work and gain a competitive advantage. For more information on how the recruitment of pharmacovigilance is changing in line with the life science landscape, and how we can help, contact the EPM Scientific team today.