This year has seemed particularly dystopian with the disruption created by the COVID19 pandemic. In Europe we are still in the second wave as we are approaching Christmas, requiring us to be particularly cautious as we celebrate. Our lives as we knew them were changed overnight, from worrying news headlines, to lockdowns, social distancing and home schooling to name only a few.
In my role as Head of Commercial for Europe at Teva, the world’s leading manufacturer of generic medicines, I’ve witnessed the impact COVID19 has had for our company and the way we work. For instance, my role usually requires me to travel a lot, visiting different teams and having face to face meetings. All of this has had to be done remotely and I have to say, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how effective it is, balanced with the fact it is clearly not a long term solution. As human beings, we all enjoy to one degree or another the social interaction of meetings and gatherings. I am certainly looking forward to this returning as soon as it is safe for us all to do so.
We have all had to adapt and as the year draws to a close, now is a good time for us to reflect on lessons learned about the way we work.
Leading in times of crisis
Whereas I used to regularly be on the road and having face to face meetings, I’ve had to learn to lead a large workforce remotely as have many others. Arguably there are those who’d already been doing this for years, but for many it’s been a steep learning curve. My key takeaways have been the following:
1. Communicate openly and regularly. Keep up with regular 1:1s, make use of video calls, Whatsapp, and other methods of communication to ensure people feel connected and close despite physical distance. communicate about how you’re feeling, so others feel able to do the same. As a leader you can’t be shy to show your human side so others can relate, relieving the pressure of them worrying about whether or not they’re doing a good job
2. Be agile. We never know what tomorrow will be made of, at the moment things can even change within the hour. That’s why it helps to be agile and flexible within your business, and ask this of your teams. If you’re prepared to work in this way you will feel more prepared to deal with whatever comes, than if you tried to continue business as usual AND manage a crisis on top of it.
3. Stay calm, and focused. In times of crisis it can be tempting to get pulled in all directions: by the different fires to put out, people asking for input, or the different parts of the business asking for attention. It’s vital to stay focused on the tasks where your contribution is most critical as this will keep things moving.
4. Encourage good health and wellbeing. Now that many of us are in our home offices, it’s harder to cut a clear break once the day is over. On top of that we have to be careful practicing social distancing and not going outside as much as we used to. But this can take a toll on our physical and mental health and makes us less efficient at our jobs. There’s no doubt that employees are also suffering in one way or another, and to help them get through these times it’s important to encourage them to take breaks, exercise, and take care of themselves.
5. Build and nurture trust. In a crisis you need to know you can trust those around you. Think about it: when firefighters respond to the call, they have to deeply trust one another and the way they operate to put the fire out together. There can be no second guessing. In business it’s not different, we cannot spend time questioning decisions or choosing sides.
This is just one aspect of the new reality we found ourselves propelled into.
Adapting to a remote workforce
Learning to work remotely goes well beyond leadership. As I mentioned, some companies have been doing this for years already and it’s likely most employees have had experience working from home. But this time it’s different because we didn’t choose to do so, or the days on which we want to. Maybe we don’t have the proper set up to do so every day, let alone while parenting, taking care of the dog, shielding and more.
Ensuring workplaces and conditions are safe will be paramount to our new reality. Offices will have to find ways to welcome those who need or want to be there: one way systems of circulating, increasing frequency of cleaning surfaces, new rules for common areas… It’s something for us to accept as a different way of working. This is something we have already implemented across our Teva offices and factories to ensure all colleagues can operate safely. It’s worth noting that for many jobs it is impossible to work remotely, and we have taken many of the learnings from our production sites into our commercial offices.
Likewise, our salesforce have had to rapidly adapt to doing everything digitally whereas they’d normally be visiting doctors and healthcare professionals face to face. In person meetings are an important part of building the relationship, and getting to understand our customers. Thankfully, we were already using Veeva engage – a tool approved for outreach to healthcare professionals. Our team accelerated the rollout of it across all markets with great success Likewise congresses across certain disease areas, usually places for healthcare and industry professionals to gather all went fully digital. Once again, I’m proud to say our team adapted and delivered successfully
Recruiting and onboarding during a global pandemic
It’s a positive to still be able to recruit during the pandemic, due to the fact that the healthcare industry provides services that are always necessary, and is heavily relied upon now. However, many companies have not been so fortunate and lots of people have unfortunately been made redundant. I certainly hope that with our job vacancies, we can provide some people with a new job they will love.
All that aside, recruitment is another part of the business that has had to transform and rethink its approach to attracting talent while not being able to provide an in person candidate experience. Of course the candidate experience has many touchpoints, of which plenty were already digital. But things like meeting potential colleagues face to face and visiting the future place of work can no longer happen. Likewise, interviewing now has to be done via video which makes it harder to read body language and other non-verbal cues.
Among people returning to the office or blending ways of working, this will help maintain or rebuild strong ties with colleagues, reinforcing company culture. One such example is the ability to get to know people outside of your direct team, which has a huge impact not just on relationships, but on creativity and productivity. A return to the office also has benefits when it comes to welcoming new hires, accelerating their integration into the company.] I don’t understand this paragraph??
Keeping the greater good in sight
While all of the above might seem bizarre, it helps to remember why we’re doing this and adapting to the “new normal”. Working in the healthcare industry, I’m acutely aware of the many challenges the pandemic poses. It’s not just taking care of those who have COVID19, it’s ensuring they – and all other patients – can get the medicine they need, not overburdening the healthcare systems while ensuring people continue to get care and treatment, or supporting frontline workers with their mental health.
It’s about ensuring we all do our part as we wait for the rollout of vaccines that can help mitigate the rapid spread of COVID19, protecting those who are more vulnerable from the many consequences of the pandemic. It’s about creating the conditions in which we can all live without having to make too many sacrifices such as delaying treatment of chronic conditions, or never being able to get your own groceries again and seeing economies recover.
A small price to pay
For those of us who can work from home, it is in fact a small price to pay to adapt to this “new normal” while others go to work every day in different conditions and potentially scary circumstances. I have a huge amount of respect for all the people who’ve continued going to work in factories, hospitals, supermarkets and more since March, even when they might have felt they were putting themselves and their families at risk.
As time goes on this “new normal” will just become normal and we’ll build these seeming oddities into our lives, accepting them as standard. Indeed over time humanity has overcome many challenges, why would this one be any different?
Richard graduated with a BSc from the University of Auckland. He started working for Ivax Pharmaceuticals prior to its acquisition by Teva in 2006. In Teva he has held various roles including Strategy Director, General Manager, and Chief Operating Officer for the International Markets. After leading Teva’s integration of Actavis as Chief Integration Office he then led the Generics business in Europe in 2016, and then went on to become head of Europe Commercial in 2017 .
Richard is passionate about healthcare and in particular the impact that affordable access of high quality medicines makes on patients and the wider society. He has a particular interest in #digitalhealth and digital transformation in the industry and the power of data to help drive better healthcare outcomes.
As part Teva's Executive Management team he leads all activities of Teva's Specialty, Generic and OTC business for Europe with a team of functional experts and geographic leads. With headquarters in The Netherlands, Teva Europe employs approximately 19,055 (commercial plus operations) people in the region and covers 36 countries, including the 27 European Union member states.
Teva is Europe’s biggest provider of tried-and-trusted generic medicine, a leading provider of Over the Counter (OTC) medicines as well as being a recognised innovator in CNS, respiratory medicines and biopharmaceuticals.