Ipsen’s raison d’être is simple: patients depend on our innovative medicines and our mission is to provide them. Working as we do in areas of high unmet medical needs, we have a real sense of urgency when it comes to fulfilling our mission. But to do so, our collaborators have to be able to perform. That’s why one of our key HR pillars is: We care for our people the way our people care for patients.
In a period of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, the essential nature of these missions becomes even clearer. Regardless of what is happening in the world, there are thousands of people who depend on our medicines: we must be able to deliver. And to be able to deliver our medicines, our colleagues must be safe and healthy. When the COVID-19 pandemic first appeared in China, we recognized that its spread could imperil our mission and it became clear we had to transform our ways of working.
A strong culture of risk management
As a company with a strong culture of risk management, we were well-prepared to deal with the crisis. That’s not to say that we specifically expected a pandemic, but that we had mechanisms in place for managing unexpected risks. And given our presence in China, we were aware of the situation in Q4 of 2019. That allowed us to monitor and follow its impact, giving us precious time to evaluate our options and prepare. As the impact of the virus grew in China, we mobilized in Europe. By January, in our French hub, we had put in place a cross-functional crisis team, with representatives from every part of the business: manufacturing, logistics, R&D, legal, sales, communications and more, headed by HR. Our approach was to develop global guidelines and allow room for local adaptations, according to each country/region’s specific conditions.
The crisis team began meeting regularly: weekly at first, before reaching daily meetings in early March. When the lockdown was announced in France on 16 March, we had already prepared the groundwork for our transformation.
Transforming to accommodate a massive shift to remote work
How do you keep people safe and healthy during a global pandemic? To start, we proactively planned and implemented a mostly virtual workplace, with over 75% of our employees worldwide working from home. This required us to rapidly ramp up of our digital and IT capabilities to support the shift—moving IT support from in-person to virtual, for example.
We also quickly saw that while working from home has benefits, it also has limitations. You lose some of the impromptu moments with colleagues that improve collaboration and make work fun. We had to transform our approach to team building and maintaining relationships, with virtual coffee catch ups during the day or virtual drinks in the evenings. The rapid change in how we worked also made it clear just how important social connection at the office is—and how challenging it can be to recreate those moments from a distance.
Reimagining the employee-employer relationship
When you can no longer count on face-to-face meetings to connect teams, share critical information with employees and ensure people are well, you have to get creative. We quickly put in place a number of initiatives, increasing our communication channels to share information, successes and keep people connected. From a dedicated news corner on our intranet and, in France, an internal radio station, we explored many ways to reach people in their homes. We ramped up our training and development programs, encouraging people to hone their skills or develop new ones during lockdown. We partnered with health apps to encourage everyone to stay active and healthy and we ensured access to dedicated mental-health support hotlines for our employees. We also worked closely with managers to identify employees who might need extra support.
Protecting our people to protect patients
Beyond implementing a virtual work environment, we have had to be agile. When COVID-19 was suspected at two of our manufacturing sites, we closed them for two weeks for disinfection and so our colleagues could self-quarantine. The outbreaks were contained; the sites resumed production. Our patients did not face shortages of our medicines because we acted early and quickly, avoiding more serious outbreaks. In other words, by protecting our people, we protect patients.
In turn, our colleagues have demonstrated incredible creativity and determination when it comes to supporting patients. Our Italian colleagues put together an innovative patient support program so cancer patients could access treatment without having to risk exposure in hospitals. Other countries are implementing similar programs as well. Our teams also adapted and transformed to the rapidly changing medical landscape, finding new ways to connect with healthcare providers and support them so they could better support patients who were concerned about accessing healthcare.
Monitoring—and learning from—the employee experience
Understanding how these changes impacted employees around the world was a key question. We put in place surveys and check ins with employees to understand what worked well and what didn’t. The results demonstrated that while globally, employees were satisfied with the measures we put in place, there were still areas of improvement: ensuring everyone had the equipment necessary to work comfortably from home, for example.
We’ve also worked closely with our affiliates worldwide, helping them react and adapt to the conditions in their regions—and learning from their experiences. This proximity has helped enrich our understanding of the barriers employees face so we can help find solutions. In some countries, crowded public transportation means people are reluctant to return to the office. We encourage flexibility: adapting work hours to avoid peak rush hour conditions or encouraging people to use different modes of transportation when available.
Facing an uncertain future
When the pandemic first began, we all wondered how things would be different when the pandemic was over—which we assumed would happen within a few months. As more countries around the world face powerful second waves, we’re now collectively realizing that we will have to live with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future and we’ve already begun adapting. First, the pendulum swung from “all in the office” to “almost all at home”. Then some countries reopened, at least partially. Now, as waves of the pandemic come and go, it now looks more likely than ever that the future of work will be hybrid. This will require frequent fine-tuning and adapting to changing circumstances. The learnings gathered from the first round of European lockdowns are now being implemented as we gear up for stricter new restrictions and new lockdowns.
Building a resilient hybrid work model
Working from home has many benefits: better concentration, better work-life balance, a higher level of productivity for individual tasks and more. But so does working from the office: informal yet essential connections with colleagues, teambuilding, on-boarding of new team members, more effective collaborative work, etc. Managers will need to grow and adapt their strategies to ensure that all employees, regardless of where they are working from, feel confident and comfortable in their teams. But whatever the future looks like, the crisis has highlighted the essential nature of our raison d’être. It has inspired our people, resulting in new levels of patient-centric innovation. And it is clearer than ever that the well-being of patients depends on the well-being of our people.
Régis Mulot joined Ipsen Pharma, in March 2018, as Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer
Régis Mulot joins Ipsen from Staples Inc., the global specialty retail and e-commerce company, where he served as Executive Vice-President, Chief Human Resources Officer, leading a global team of over 600 professionals. Prior to his career with Staples (2009-18), Mr Mulot held HR leadership positions with Levi Strauss & Co (2002-08) and the technology start-up Broadnet Europe (2000-02), following earlier roles at GTECH Corporation (1994-2000), International Post Corporation (1991-94) and Chronopost SA (1989-91).
Mr Mulot served on the Board of Trustees, Simmons College (Boston M.A.); is Past Chairman of the Business Advisory Committee of the Simmons School of Management 2014-2017; Founder and former chair of the French-American HR Forum since 2016-2018. He has been Co-chair of the Boston CHRO (Chief Human Resources Officers) Leadership summit between 2014 and 2018, and is a Gartner CHRO Leadership Board member since 2017.
Mr Mulot holds a DESS Entreprises Publiques (Master in Public Administration) from Paris XI-Sud in partnership with Paris IX-Dauphine and Institut International d’Administration Publique (IIAP). He also holds a Maîtrise Droit Public (Bachelor of Law) from Paris II–Panthéon-Assas, and is a Beta Gamma Sigma honoree from the Simmons College Chapter.