In this post-COVID era, our clients have experienced a culture shift — driven by remote work, digital transformation, accelerated innovation, and a focus on employee well-being. Changes in supply chain, clinical trials, and regulatory dynamics have accentuated all of this.

The changing landscape presents both challenges and opportunities for all of us in biopharma as we look for ways to adapt to evolving circumstances.

The NemetzGroup has worked remotely since its inception in 2003. When COVID introduced this structure to our industry more broadly, we were ready to share our experience and help our clients find success, no matter the technology challenges.

Now, nearly four years since COVID’s arrival, our clients have settled on a diverse range of workplace options: two to three days a week in the office, just a few days per month, to no required in-person time at all. Others have returned to a five-days-per-week in-office schedule.

Things have changed for us as well. While we have always worked as a virtual organization, we are visiting clients less often. Like them, we have been challenged to build relationships remotely, learn to “read the Zoom room,” and drive engagement from afar. Much of our success in mentoring and developing people requires building trust; we have looked for new ways to connect that leverage both technology and in-person time.

We know employees appreciate the flexibility (as do we). And while some companies are managing hybrid and maintaining a strong company culture, others have not fared as well. A recent Economist article, “The working-from-home illusion fades,” suggests that having in-office time can help productivity and make people happier. We agree — if that time is structured well.

In preparation for this month’s e-conversation, The NemetzGroup team got together to share the challenges our clients have faced. Further, we discussed strategies we have seen (and put in place for ourselves!) to minimize the negative impact on company culture and maximize the positive benefits of this new world order.

Here is some of what we learned…

Transformation Tip #1: Video On

As the team grows and to collaborate most effectively, people must build trust and establish personal relationships. This can be especially challenging through a monitor. That’s why we recommend that the “default setting” for all meetings is video on.

Of course, there can be occasional exceptions due to extenuating circumstances. But if video is optional, attendees can’t read non-verbal cues, often leading to miscommunication or unintended consequences.Further, seeing one another in real-time encourages active participation, helps participants remain focused, and builds trust more quickly and deeply than voice-only interactions.

Opting out of being visible is not an option in an in-person conference room. Likewise, by keeping the video on, your team will realize many of the same benefits as being in the same room.

Transformation Tip #2: Structured In-Person Time

Some of our clients go into the office two or three days a week. While they would gladly forgo the brutal commute into and out of Cambridge (for our local readers), many people get their energy from being with others and are excited to see their colleagues. Some companies even offer free lunch to further encourage live in-person time.

Our team noted several circumstances where it was especially important to structure in-person time: Developing the company vision and strategy, long-range planning, portfolio planning, preparing for brand planning, and subsequent launch planning. All require a tremendous amount of cross-functional engagement, and there is much to be gained in person that cannot be replicated otherwise.

The energy, excitement, collaboration, and (often required) quick decision-making depends a great deal on established rapport and shorthand communication. Without a strong, personal connection, team dynamics can be challenging, resulting in delays in important decisions or, worse, decisions made without the involvement of all relevant parties.

We recognize that capacity and bandwidth are already stretched across many teams. However, by taking the time to “calendarize” the project over a series of in-person meetings, the company will benefit, and decision governance will be streamlined.

The NemetzGroup team has become particularly adept at creating all-hands / in-person interactive workshops to replace structured team meetings. Preparing sessions that engage people, leverage the talent around the table, and advance strategic initiatives are worth the time and investment. Plus, the team will come away feeling aligned and enthusiastic about partnering for continued initiative success.

Transformation Tip #3: Clear Communications

The need for clear communication applies in nearly all workplace (and personal) situations; engaging with a hybrid workforce is no exception. Frequent, consistent, and direct communication minimizes confusion, supports employee engagement, and enables a more inclusive and adaptable work environment.

For example, one client created an internal podcast to share some of the office buzz that would typically circulate in person. Another has adopted Slack and other bi-directional communication channels to encourage transparency and openness. Other companies use frequent employee surveys to understand how team members feel and to identify and minimize gaps.

Of course, too many opportunities for communication can confuse or distract. Providing clear expectations and establishing ground rules is highly recommended (what worked at the height of COVID may no longer work today). Communication channels should evolve based on the changing needs and preferences of your workforce.

What’s Next for Hybrid?

Of course, nobody knows. Some predict full “back to the office” by 2026. Others think (and hope) those days are gone forever.

How and when this all shakes out, it’s clear to us and the clients we speak with that optimizing employee engagement, happiness, and collaboration will always be among the top priorities of high-performing companies.

As the year ends, check in with your team on how whatever structure you have adopted works for them, how it could be better, and what feedback they have. We know that so many of you are managing hybrid work well. Please share your experiences and suggestions with us here!