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The COVID-19 pandemic has irreversibly shifted the modern workplace. Many surveys have highlighted this shift, with changed expectations from both employers and employees following the departure from traditional workplaces. With employees also reporting improved work life balance and increased productivity, coupled with cost savings for business, it appears this shift from working in a centralized office to working primarily from home will remain permanent for some workplaces.

To better understand this change in the workplace, I interviewed three professionals across three different career paths. I was interested in how they adapted to the new COVID-19 altered workplace and their visions for the future at their companies. From there, I also garnered some best practices for students transitioning into the workplace amidst this pandemic.

Mariana Thomson, Associate Director of Scientific Services,

As a medical writing agency, the amount of business we get wasn’t affected. The work situation has not changed for me personally, as I always worked from home, but it was a change for some people when both of our offices closed for a time in March, then opened for limited occupancy over the summer, then closed again in October. The company is now considering having a more flexible work-from-home policy, even when covid [COVID-19] is under control. In fact, our office in NYC [New York City] may go completely virtual. Medical writing is well suited for the hybrid model.

In terms of the challenges, it is a bit difficult to keep the communication channels open and you lose some of that casual, interpersonal interaction that you get in an office. But we have implemented more team meetings, “happy hours” and themed team meetings to increase interaction. We also had to adjust some of our processes, as a large part of our business was organizing advisory boards and other meetings. These have now gone exclusively virtual, so we had to adapt the service we provide and how we deliver them.

Overall, I think this situation has caused pharma [the pharmaceuticals industry] and med comms [medical communications] agencies to re-evaluate how we train/educate employees and in how we communicate information to treaters. It has pushed us to assess the value of the way things were being done and challenged us to come up with novel ways to make communication more engaging, interactive and succinct. I think agencies/freelancers that are willing and able to evolve with the times and to innovate will really get a leg up.

Robin Kerbel, CEO, Six Degrees Medical Consulting

We are no longer working together in an office setting, so we need more effort across the board from communication to employee engagement. However, I have been impressed by the resilience of our team and how they have adapted. The first few months  [were] challenging, but now everyone is pretty comfortable working virtually.

We are all working remotely and, surprisingly, are more productive since there is no commute time necessary. The downside is that it’s harder to socialize and casual conversations around the water cooler take more effort.

I think we will see way more remote work going forward now that everyone has seen that it’s possible. I imagine [a] much smaller office space being needed and people working remotely for the majority of their work week, with staff coming together for important meetings or just to have social interactions with their colleagues.

Dominic Jaikaran, President and CEO, Bright Angel Therapeutics

As with many organizations, COVID-19 has forced our organization to work remotely where possible. Given we were largely a virtual operation prior to Covid [COVID-19] this was not a huge adjustment for the most part. That said, our research operations, which cannot be performed remotely, were disrupted by the shutdowns, thus slowing our progress and productivity.

In regards to biotech [the biotechnology field], I do not see changes in research activities as research requires people at benches to perform the work.  [However,] I think that depends on the workplace you are talking about as not all workplaces/industries are the same.

The widespread use of online technologies to facilitate business development and conferences may stick, given the cost and time savings it provides to companies. Time will tell.


Ways to succeed in the virtual world

  1. Stay Organized: “Being organized and setting up a proper home office space will be incredibly important. It does require more effort to separate work from personal time so practicing that now will definitely be helpful when the time comes,” Says Kerbel. “Also, learning how to employ all of the various virtual platforms now will ensure that this skill set is well honed for the future of work”.
  2. Communication Skills: “It takes a lot of trust for an employer to have employees working from home. Trust in terms of that you will actually do the work, but also trust that you are capable of doing it with minimum supervision, explains Thomson. “So if you can show the potential employer that you are willing and able to communicate clearly…, you already have an advantage,”.
  3. Virtual Resources: “Now is a good time to get any education done, as the courses are all virtual and therefore accessible to anyone anywhere, and the cost is significantly less,” adds Thomson. Taking advantage of events put on by the university also provides the opportunity for students to practice the skills needed to succeed.

Although this is a limited list of things useful in the job hunt, it’s important to realize these skills are among the most critical to develop throughout graduate studies to be a standout candidate. The job market is ever changing, so keeping on top of these skills will allow prospective candidates the flexibility to apply to multiple positions, increasing the chance of job success.