Novartis CEO Says Remote Work Hybrid Should Mean Access to New Talent Pools

Vasant Narasimhan_Novartis

Photo courtesy of Novartis.

Novartis AG Chief Executive Officer Vas Narasimhan believes that the hybrid of remote and on-site office work is the future. The Swiss pharma giant’s CEO said this will open up the possibility of working with new pools of talent that were inaccessible pre-COVID pandemic.

If the Novartis boss is right, parents and women could particularly form a significant part of this pool. 

As it stands, the pandemic has led Novartis to expend considerably on the work-from-home set-up of employees, whose nature of work allows remote working.

“We’ll be looking I think to adjust our overall footprint and then invest where appropriate,” Narasimhan said.

In July 2020, Novartis implemented Choice with Responsibility. This program allows employees choice and say on their work logistics based on their employing country. This means employees need only inform their managers about their choice of where and how they will work on a given day, rather than requiring management approval for their choice. In terms of mental health, additional resources are being provided, alongside in-country remote work support.

Under the program, Novartis made the commitment to stay close to the ground to ensure that the program’s measures are effective, not only in the present, but also in the future. This forward-looking drive is behind their to-do list of testing and investigating long-term proposals to develop a well-founded future workplace model for Novartis.

Novartis Chief People and Organization Officer Steve Baert explained this motivation.

“As an innovative healthcare company, we want to unleash the power of our people to reimagine medicine; to create an environment where everyone is supported and encouraged to be the best they can be, professionally and personally,” Baert said.

Insights from anonymized data and science are being used to enhance and refine employee support. The employee survey feedback that shaped the Choice with Responsibility program highlighted the need for space that allows colleague connection and collaboration vis-à-vis the freedom and safety afforded by remote working.

Not all organizations share Novartis’ future-proofing trajectory. According to the Return to Workplace study by WB Wood, more than 70% of business executives,who have the authority to decide or make an input on on-site work set-up, expect a return to the pre-pandemic work set-up before 2021 ends. Of these, 60.8% have no expectation of having to change either the office space or the strategy they had before the COVID-19 pandemic. Such perspective, if shared by a significant number of executives, raises concerns over possible morale and health fallout for the workforce.

As questions around what the workplace might look like in a post-pandemic world, many people are seeking insights and conversations with others about the topic. For example, BioSpace is hosting a live virtual discussion about how to prepare for a post-pandemic workplace. Registrants will be able to listen to the panel discuss practical advice and insights for success.

A seeming part of what may be viewed as a manner of over-optimism is the current rate of COVID-19 vaccine rollout and uptake. Turnaround in the employment landscape, where hiring activities are beginning to gain momentum once more, may add to this shift in the balance between business goals and employee well-being. Interestingly, much of the positive up-turn in new employments are vaccine and vaccination-related roles.

Novartis itself does not produce its own COVID-19 vaccine. However, the pharma giant provides crucial support to the bottling process and in making COVID-19 vaccine doses for other manufacturers. Narasimhan shared that Novartis is targeting 50 million doses for German pharma CureVac by 2021 and 200 million doses in 2022.

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