Life Sciences Employee Return to Office Survey Results | August 2021

One of the top questions that employers in the Life Sciences community within the Capital Region are asking is how companies are approaching bringing employees back to the office. That’s why we asked nearly 30 top employers in the area to share their strategies in a recent survey conducted by BioBuzz Media.

What the data you will see shows is that while there’s still a great deal of indecision in the industry, companies are cutting a wide margin for COVID-19. Remote work, shifting processes, and the focus on safety are still top priorities. However, what you’re starting to see are the impacts it’s having on the long-term strategy for everything from facilities planning to talent acquisition practices.

As for trends directly related to COVID-19, there aren’t a lot of surprises here. Given that the industry is built around progressing life sciences, it’s pretty clear that employers trust that their workforce will see the merits of getting vaccinated. The data also shows that common sense health measures will be ubiquitous across the industry – however, some of that data is misleading. 

While large percentages of companies said that enhanced safety protocols, masking, etc. would be instituted, many respondents commented separately that they were already adhering strictly to CDC guidelines and didn’t select the protocols in the survey, skewing that particular data set. The real picture shows that these protocols are going to be something the majority of companies follow.

Stick around after the jump for some insights on what trends YOU and your leaders should be paying attention to:

Approximately what percentage of your workforce is now working remote for at least part of their week (2+ days)?

0%4%
10% or less11.5%
Up to 25% 11.5%
Up to 50%19%
Up to 75%19%
75-100%35%
Nearly 75% of companies have more than half of their workforce working from home 2+ days per week today.

What is the current status of your team members whose jobs can be accomplished from home?

Fully Remote27%
Optional On-site38.5%
Specific roles that are ‘Work-from-Home capable’ are required to be on-site (ex. Director & above, Billings & Collections, etc.) 15%
On-site required only for critical meetings11.5%
Mandatory on-site for all employees8%
Over a year and a half into our fight against COVID-19, 65% of employees are at a minimum are currently being left to their own discretion as to whether they’d like to be working on-site.

If your team is not currently working on-site, how are you planning to operate moving forward?

Bring back all employees to on-site that were required to be prior to lockdown4%
Bring back employees in phases8%
Remain hybrid ‘work-from-home’/on-site workforce52%
Remain completely ‘work-from-home’ with a smaller shared office space8%
Unsure8%
n/a – team is back to pre-lockdown work environment20%
That’s right. While 20% of employers are back to their pre-lockdown environment, 60% will at a minimum have a hybrid workforce – along with a small percentage that never returns to an on-site situation.

If you are returning to the office, what priorities will you have for employees? (checklist)

54% said enhanced health & safety protocols would be a priority (limits to meeting room occupancy, restrictions on elevators, etc.)
50% said required self-reporting/testing for any symptoms of illness concurrent with COVID-19
42% said masks would be a priority
35% said social distancing would be a priority

What will be your stance on employee vaccination against COVID-19?

We will require employees to be vaccinated prior to returning to the office8%
We will strongly encourage employees to get vaccinated prior to returning to the office73%
Undecided8%
We will not take a position on vaccination11%
The majority of companies will be strongly encouraging vaccination for employees.

If you choose to require the COVID-19 vaccine, how will you verify that employees are vaccinated?

Required Proof-of-Vaccination33%
Honor system25%
Undecided42%

How will you handle business travel to other office sites (in the US)?

We already allow business travel44%
We will not be reintroducing business travel0%
We will not allow business travel for the remainder of 202116%
Undecided40%
A lot is up in the air. About half are back to business travel and a little less than half aren’t sure if/when it will return.

What are your biggest concerns when considering a hybrid or work-from-home business model? (Rating: 0 – lowest, 10 – highest)

8.08 – Maintaining culture
7.58 – Collaborating effectively
6.35 – Maintaining high performance
6.04 – Maintaining fairness
4.29 – Scheduling conflicts for required on-site/in-person meetings/events
These numbers are aligned to most other industry reports with fears of maintaining culture and promoting collaboration being primary concerns.

Based on factors brought about by COVID-19, what are your plans for your office space in the next 12-36 months?

No changes caused by COVID-1950%
We will be looking to reduce workspace/costs because of COVID-1923%
Undecided27%
Possibly one of the more shocking statistics – half of the companies we surveyed are at a minimum undecided about their office space needs in a post-COVID-19 world.

Assuming you go back to the office and interviewers are on-site, how will you be handling interviews/recruitment processes for the remainder of 2021?

We will have candidates visit the office for in-person interviews with the hiring team19%
For the foreseeable future, we will have candidates utilize video platforms for the interview process38.5%
We will make determinations based on factors surrounding the role (level, skillsets, team, etc)38.5%
Undecided4%
Interviewing is still in a wait-and-see but slowly starting to move back toward face-to-face.

Key takeaways:

It’s clear that maintaining a strong organizational culture and collaborating effectively are still vital to achieving business goals – this was true before the pandemic. But with such a definitive move to hybrid work environments, companies will be upskilling their human resources teams, people managers, and even executives on how to keep employees engaged, collaborative, and productive when they’re not in an office environment. That means training and programs designed to improve communication in this new environment but it also means companies will be looking for new technologies and platforms that can help influence behavior and improve efficiency.

The biggest battle will take place in the employer brand arena. Companies that have adapted to a hybrid work environment have just opened up their talent pools exponentially. The strategic investments that will be made will be centered around effective recruitment marketing tools, untapped/remote talent markets, focused recruitment marketing campaigns with high-value audiences and building more attractive perks/benefit packages now that commuter benefits and facilities expenses are decreasing. 

Overall, there are a lot of takeaways that feel intuitive. After a year and a half of lockdowns, safety protocols, vaccinations, and monitoring, companies are recognizing that building an adaptable workforce is a must in a post-COVID world. With the possibility of new variants and the realization that major health catastrophes could become more prevalent in such a connected world, having systems and processes that protect the ability to deliver on a mission becomes all the more important. As the return-to-office shift continues, we’ll be keeping an eye on trends and coming up with more surveys that will keep organizations informed – be sure to follow along.

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Jake Thomas

Enabling conversations between the right people can open a doorway to meaningful innovations, equitable career opportunities, and can help us build powerful communities. At BioBuzz, I'm lucky to be in a position to drive all three of those outcomes forward. Each day, I get to help companies, thought leaders, and professionals of all walks of life tell their story to the right audience. More importantly, I get to amplify it on a powerful platform to uncover its value in the context of broader themes in the industry and the impact to communities that benefit from the work being done. Follow me to learn more about Employer Brand, Talent Communities, and Digital Assets.