Recruitment Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic

September 30, 2020

Fiona Huzarski outlines four key recruitment lessons that pharma can take from the coronavirus crisis and use to move forward and thrive.

Adaptability is an important quality for any company, function or individual operating within the healthcare industry, but never has it been so essential as during the COVID-19 pandemic. Within a matter of weeks, we saw years’ worth of change to healthcare systems around the world and the need to adapt to a new virtual environment. Not only did the pharmaceutical industry have to rapidly respond to increasing demand and pressures on manufacturing and supply of critical medicines, processes on retention and recruitment of the best talent in the industry had to evolve to ensure we minimised organisational disruption and continued to service the patients who rely on our treatments.

As the industry begins to adjust to the ‘new normal’ of working practices, it’s important to reflect on the learnings we can take from this exceptional time and how we can use these to not only move forward, but to thrive.

Bucking the trend

While almost a quarter of workers in the UK were placed on furlough under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the HR team at ADVANZ PHARMA continued to spearhead a huge recruitment drive,. So far, this drive has been successful, and we have hired some of the most experienced talent, including a newly created role of Chief Medical Officer. Of course, this did not come without its challenges, but with an efficient remote working set-up, we have been able to adapt to a virtual recruitment method, holding video interviews and one-to-one onboarding meetings. Pushing the boundaries of what we can achieve virtually, we have been able to reallocate freed-up time and resources directly into our employees, including dedicated programmes and sessions to enable employees to reach their full potential.

The pandemic coincided with our acquisition of speciality pharmaceutical company Correvio Pharma back in May. The timing of the acquisition meant we had to integrate an entire workforce virtually and it was critical that this integration was a success.

Lessons we can learn

Employee wellbeing

The coronavirus outbreak has reinforced the importance of taking care of employees and focusing on their wellbeing. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has recently shown that nearly one in five people has experienced depression in the period up to June 2020, demonstrating the need for greater investment in business’ time and resources to look after employees’ mental health. Maintaining a human connection while working from home, managing remote people efficiently, and keeping them engaged and motivated are all vital in maintaining a happy and healthy workforce. ADVANZ PHARMA arranged a host of activities as a result, including mindfulness sessions, yoga classes and resilience sessions, as well as continuing the fun and lighthearted side of the company culture, despite the difficult situation we find ourselves in. The HR team will continue to play a major role in ensuring safety in returning to work as restrictions are slowly relaxed, and management of the various considerations that accompany this.

Flexibility

The pandemic has taught us that nothing is certain and external factors can overturn long-established working practices. Flexible working approaches, virtual meetings and remote working look like they are here to stay, meaning employers should look to implement long-term solutions, as well as select candidates who are able to adapt and are open to change. We took the decision in early March to close our offices globally and switch to 100% remote working. The new ways of working require a novel set of competencies and skills, which may not have been a consideration before, such as digital proficiency and resilience. The pandemic has also underscored the need for fluidity in talent, with autonomy and agility as core qualities in employees; candidates who are able to learn, grow and adapt efficiently will underpin a strong talent supply chain.

Communication

During the integration of the Correvio Pharma workforce, we invested a great deal of time into personalised communication with employees. We set up one-to-one meetings with every employee in the first two weeks of integration, ensuring we understood what the transition meant for them personally, while aligning to our company values and objectives. Developing a better understanding of employees’ needs not only makes remote working easier, but also strengthens their commitment to the company, critical to the success of this is ensuring lines of communication remain open and transparent throughout. A recent employee poll showed that the overwhelming majority of our staff, 96%, felt positively about the integration.

Trust

The change in working situation has also meant a new level of trust has had to be instilled within workforces. We have found that teams and individuals have flourished through allowing them greater responsibilities, which has come hand-in-hand with greater cross-functional collaboration. By empowering employees and placing confidence in them, while still being available for support and encouraging ongoing communication, you create a high-trust culture, where productivity is an inevitable result.

What these lessons mean

Beyond these four key lessons, perhaps the biggest learning curve of the year so far is realising that nothing is certain and that we must prepare for worst-case scenarios. However, if you look beyond the immediate issues and hurdles which need navigating, these situations can provide opportunity, space for change and realisation of opportunities that were previously unexplored. The pandemic has certainly pushed us all to test the boundaries of what is possible, step out of our comfort zones and, vitally, become stronger and more unified teams as a result.

Fiona Huzarski is Vice President, Global HR, at ADVANZ PHARMA.