GRAPEVINE: Australian life sciences firms considering a June return to office but yet to set exact date

GRAPEVINE: Australian life sciences firms considering  a June return to office but yet to set exact date
Catherine O’Mahony, owner of ON Q Recruitment, the Australian partner of Irish recruitment company CareerWise Recruitment. Australia is said to be around four weeks ahead of Ireland in its Covid cycle.

Life sciences companies in Australia want to return to office-based work during June, but almost 70% have yet to set a firm date by which they want their employees to come back into the office.

The results of a comprehensive ‘Return to Office’ survey for life sciences in Australia, conducted by ON Q Recruitment in Sydney, could be quite instructive for Irish companies as they review how best to restore a normal working environment as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to pose a serious health risk.

Australia is said to be a month ahead of Ireland in its Covid-19 cycle.

Australian company ON Q Recruitment is a partner of CareerWise Recruitment, which has offices in Cork, Shannon, Galway, Mayo and Dublin.

Ken Murphy, director of Cork-based CareerWise Recruitment.
Ken Murphy, director of Cork-based CareerWise Recruitment.

“Our Australian partner ON Q Recruitment in Sydney completed an extensive survey of over 36 life sciences clients across all states representing over 15,000 employees to assess their readiness to return to office.

“As Australia is about four weeks ahead of Ireland in the Covid return cycle, I felt this information could be useful to Irish companies as they start to prepare for return to office,” states Ken Murphy, a director with CareerWise Recruitment.

Survey led by Corkwoman in Australia

ON Q Recruitment is owned by Corkwoman Catherine O’Mahony who hails from Ballinhassig and is a specialist recruitment agency for the life sciences sector in Australia.

In its broadest context, despite the Australian Federal Government’s roadmap for recovery post Covid-19 being announced earlier this month, the results of our survey found the vast majority of companies within our sector still do not have a Return to Office (RTO) date for their workforce.

In fact, of the 36 life science companies who responded to the survey, only 30% had a timeline in place for their staff to RTO, with the balance admitting that “no date has been set”. Among those who reported having a line of sight on a date, most were only able to articulate that they expected staff to RTO “in June”.

It should not be surprising that this is the status of the sector given continuing uncertainty around the spread of Covid-19 and fear for both personal and professional liability. Given the importance of the sector to Australia’s overall economic performance however, there are clear advantages in wider industry awareness of the plans of peers to help guide individual organisation’s decisions.

For this reason, our ON Q Recruitment survey sought to identify areas of consistent, versus divergent, opinion across the sector on best practice and key areas of concerns.

High among the key areas of concern, the survey found over 70% of companies were planning to make special considerations for employees who travel to and from work on public transport reflecting the continued focus on staff safety and welfare. Mitigating ideas for this concern ranged from allowing people to continue to work from home, through to rotating access to car spaces, flexibility around start and finish times, and reimbursement for costs of taxis.

PPE to be provided by 80% of life sciences companies

Interestingly, nearly 80% of respondents also identified they intended to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to staff to enable a safe RTO. Whilst admirable, this finding begs a number of questions including how access to this equipment will be secured (given the large number of individuals involved and continued global pressure on the supply) and how staff will be advised and policed to ensure consistent and appropriate use.

Unexpectedly, the plans for RTO varied significantly based on whether the company was owned internationally or domestically with 65% of Australian owned companies planning to introduce “Rotational Workforces”, while 71% of international owned companies are planning a “Phased Return to Office”. This finding is particularly intriguing as it may indeed correlate in some way with the different approaches taken to market by market to the management of the Covid-19 pandemic. 72% of respondents were global multinational companies.

Three key principles

Irrespective of their size, location, industry sector, or ownership, over 75% of all companies reported they are planning a combination approach based on the following key principles:

1. Managing the number of days in the office for specific roles

2. Managing an overall percentage of staff and functions on-site at any one point in time; and

3. Prioritising RTO for specific roles.

In addition to the above, the survey also delved into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on salary loads and planning, the management of annual leave, the addition of new workplace safety practices, and specific medical protocols being adopted by each business.

In conclusion, there was one finding that was loudly consistent: no-one wants to face a widely publicised Covid-19 cluster in their workforce. As such many are still proceeding with caution, seeking to achieve a balance between business priorities, and workplace and community safety.

CareerWise Recruitment and ON Q Recruitment are part of a global network covering 59 countries of owner-managed recruitment specialists in the life sciences sector called INRALS.

Survey of Australian life sciences companies

The ON Q Recruitment 'LifeSciences Return to Office' survey was conducted from Friday, May 8, to Tuesday, May 1.

Some 36 companies responded, somewhere between 10,000 and 21,000 employees. Of the respondents, 67% of employees are office-based; 77% of the companies are internationally owned. The survey features replies from every Australian State.

Topline conclusions:

Return to Office set date: June 2020 is the preferred RTO month for 100% of employers in the 501 to 1,000 bracket, but 69% have not set a firm date.

Your Approach: Irrespective of size, location, industry sector or ownership, over 77% of companies are planning a combination approach in getting their workforce back to the office and it will be based on % of staff, prioritizing specific roles and numbers of days in the office.

Pain points for HR & Leaders: Getting to work is a big issue for those employees who commute using public transport.

Employees Deemed Vulnerable be prioritised?: 69% will consider this on a case by case by basis, which seems likely there will be extra work for HR and line managers.

Hot Desking: Not an issue for most respondents. Of the 7% of respondents who do hot desk, all are offering staff PPE and they also all do a deep clean of their offices daily.

Communal kitchens: Remaining open, but with restrictions.

Annual Leave: 86% wil continue with their current annual leave policy, i.e. always subject to usual approval.

PPE: Over 78% will provide their staff with PPE (this question did not address cost).

Salary increases: 36% of pay increases will proceed or likely to proceed in 2020; 34% have been frozen or likely to be frozen (31% N/A as next round of increases occur in 2021).

www.careerwise.ie

www.onqrecruitment.com.au

www.inrals.com

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