Supporting New Ways of Working in the Life Sciences

Freelance working is here to stay, but can organizations and legislators do more to support a growing Life Sciences community of independent workers?

By James Hochreutiner, Vice President, Global Solutions , KellyOCG

Life Sciences is a truly global business. It relies on experts collaborating across boundaries to drive discovery and innovation with the potential to save lives. It’s also an area where we are seeing a change in the way people want to go to work. Remote working, gig working, contracting, independent working – they are all on the rise in the Life Sciences. We are even seeing specific science-based platforms, such as Kolabtree and Experfy, emerging to fill the growing need for freelance scientific experts. Accessing this new mobile workforce is not just a great opportunity for Life Sciences organizations, it’s essential for survival in a highly competitive and skills-short market.

However, the growing desire from many Life Sciences professionals to work independently is not always translated into workplace reality. In some ways, the cultural world of work is still struggling to catch up, despite the huge potential of this flexible talent pool. I explore three key areas where we can do more to support an increasingly independent Life Sciences world, below.

Cultural Mindset

We are seeing wildly different and sometimes blanket approaches to remote working within organizations. Remote working is a genie we cannot put back in the bottle – in the 2019 LinkedIn Global Talent Trends Survey, 72% of talent professionals said that workplace flexibility is extremely important in the future of talent. It’s also essential to growing access to scientific freelance talent. Despite this, we are seeing some Life Sciences organizations with extremely limited remote working options. These can be driven by the security of data or lab work that cannot be performed outside a specific environment. However, this approach can also be underpinned by a lingering cultural mindset that remote work is unproductive or unsupervised.

We are also seeing organizations choosing to offer large-scale remote opportunities or making significant swings back and forth on remote working policy. There is no good or bad to remote working, but it is a crucial tool that we are sometimes not entirely comfortable with. The important thing is to start with the work that needs to get done and not get mired in the steps in-between. Remote working is here to stay, and finding ways to leverage it to connect with key talent pools – including freelancers – is vital.

Legislative Barriers

Independent workers in the Life Sciences face barriers, not only in some workplaces but within the legislative systems where they operate. Questions around taxes and labor rights come alongside the difficulties of being a freelancer working for an organization in one country while living in another – or traveling around the world. It makes for a complex headache of employment risks and freelance confusion that can become even more convoluted when you add in the extra legislative burden faced by Life Sciences organizations. There is no simple solution to these complicated problems, and it’s crucial to balance potential exploitation of workers who fall outside ‘traditional’ structures with the freedom to work in new ways that support how people want to live. We need legislators to recognize this and act, because failure to change has the potential to slow down the economy.

Access to Freelance Work    

One big question for independent workers in the Life Sciences is how do they find the work they need? There are some freelance and gig platforms, but they can be highly generalized. In reality, scientists and specialists often rely on a network of recruiters and contacts to land their next assignment. This approach, which can rely on who rather than what you know, represents a real opportunity for Life Sciences organizations to get ahead of the game. Through creating their own independent worker platforms, Life Sciences organizations can plug directly into the freelance science community. It’s a project I’m currently working on with one of my clients, and I believe it represents the future of the Life Sciences talent, putting the company at the center of an active network of scientific professionals.

The Life Sciences has a skills shortage and we simply don’t have the luxury of choice to ignore this new crowd of highly motivated and highly skilled talent. Organizations need to innovate, embrace change, and build talent strategies with independent workers front of mind to ensure they don’t get left behind.

To discuss this topic further with the author or to learn more about our life sciences and healthcare expertise, contact us today.