The DNA of Work

What's happening in the life sciences sector?

July 12, 2022 Season 1 Episode 31
What's happening in the life sciences sector?
The DNA of Work
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The DNA of Work
What's happening in the life sciences sector?
Jul 12, 2022 Season 1 Episode 31

We hear a lot about collaboration and innovation potentially suffering when people work in a hybrid way - spending more time apart than physically together.  While innovation might be the icing on the cake for some companies - for others, like those in life sciences,  innovation is at the core of their business. So how are they adapting to hybrid ways of working?

Here's a quick overview of the discussions:

Adam Hoy:

  • Key challenges in the life sciences sector (1:30)
  • Managing space requirements (7:10)
  • Different space models for partnering (11:51)

Colombine Gardair:

  • The need to travel vs carbon reduction efforts (17:50)
  • Enhancing the remote collaborative experience (20:00)
  • Immersive experiences - where to start? (28:44)

If you have any questions that you'd like to discuss, please get in touch with host Karen Plum.


Deloitte 2022 Global Life Sciences Outlook 


AWA Host: Karen Plum


  • Adam Hoy VP, Head of Worldwide Real Estate & Facilities, GSK
  • Dr Colombine Gardair, Director of Innovation, AWA

 AWA Guest details



Advanced Workplace Associates contact: Andrew Mawson 

Advanced Workplace Institute contact: Brad Taylor

Music: courtesy of  

Want to know more about AWA?

Thanks for listening to the DNA of work podcast

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

We hear a lot about collaboration and innovation potentially suffering when people work in a hybrid way - spending more time apart than physically together.  While innovation might be the icing on the cake for some companies - for others, like those in life sciences,  innovation is at the core of their business. So how are they adapting to hybrid ways of working?

Here's a quick overview of the discussions:

Adam Hoy:

  • Key challenges in the life sciences sector (1:30)
  • Managing space requirements (7:10)
  • Different space models for partnering (11:51)

Colombine Gardair:

  • The need to travel vs carbon reduction efforts (17:50)
  • Enhancing the remote collaborative experience (20:00)
  • Immersive experiences - where to start? (28:44)

If you have any questions that you'd like to discuss, please get in touch with host Karen Plum.


Deloitte 2022 Global Life Sciences Outlook 


AWA Host: Karen Plum


  • Adam Hoy VP, Head of Worldwide Real Estate & Facilities, GSK
  • Dr Colombine Gardair, Director of Innovation, AWA

 AWA Guest details



Advanced Workplace Associates contact: Andrew Mawson 

Advanced Workplace Institute contact: Brad Taylor

Music: courtesy of  

Want to know more about AWA?

Thanks for listening to the DNA of work podcast

00:00:00 Karen Plum

Hello everyone. I read a lot of articles and talk to people about hybrid working and there's a lot said about the impact it has on creativity and innovation. Often people say these are damaged when we aren't together, but there's innovation and there's innovation! 

For some organisations, innovation might be a nice to have, the icing on the cake. But for life sciences companies, innovation is a core activity. What does this mean for how these organisations are working today? Let's find out. 

00:00:33 INTRO: Welcome to the Changing the World of Work Podcast where we provide insightful, practical content to untangle and demystify workplace change. I'm Karen Plum, director at Advanced Workplace Associates, where we combine science with nearly 30 years’ experience helping organizations change the way they work, for the better. 

00:00:56 Karen Plum

To explore the current situation in life sciences from a workplace and ways of working perspective, I'm joined by two guests. Later in this episode, we'll hear from my scientific colleague and Director of Innovation at AWA, Colombine Gardair.

But firstly, I talked to Adam Hoy, VP, Head of Worldwide Real Estate and Facilities at GSK, about what he's seeing in the life sciences sector. I started by asking about the key challenges the sector is facing after two years of Covid and a lot of change in how people are working. 

00:01:30 Adam Hoy

In terms of the future of work, there's a lot of activity going on in that space to determine what type of portfolio and how we're going to ensure that we've got the right type of space for people to be productive. You know, as we know, that's life sciences and that's across the board. 

I think the added complexity in life science is the different types of space you need within life sciences companies. As an industry, we've clearly been looking at offices and what the future of offices might look like. 

We've done a lot of work in that space looking at how we make our space more collaborative and how we ensure that people have the opportunity to be productive when they come to work. But more generally, I think the key challenge within life sciences is to apply that same principle across the different types of assets within the portfolio. 

So I would say that would be the main key challenges as we look at a post Covid way of working. 

00:02:23 Karen Plum

Yeah, I mean in terms of the experiences that people are looking for and that you and your colleagues across the sector as people who are delivering the workspace, do you see people going out of their way now to really change the provision so that people are now looking at different experiences? 

00:02:46 Adam Hoy

I think the conversation is definitely different post Covid versus pre Covid. I think a lot of forward-thinking companies were thinking about upscaling their service provision as a way to recruit and retain employees, but I think that's a must have. The upscaling of your service provision it's definitely something that's talked about a lot now so where something might have…

00:03:08 Karen Plum

What does that mean? What does upscaling the surface provision look like? 

00:03:12 Adam Hoy

Sure, well, I mean, I think what we you know, we (the broader we in the industry) used to do is, we would talk a lot about costs, and we'd say OK, what's cost per square foot, what's cost per employee, and how do we bring those numbers down? And that's how you went to your CFO was with those numbers. I think now it's about, what does the employee experience look like? 

If you're looking at some sort of metric that gives you feedback on how your employees feel about the office they're in, using that as an example, I think upscaling the provision would be - what can we do to drive that employee experience up; so where we're not necessarily looking at it as cost per square foot, cost per employee, it's more about what's the experience level that those people are at. 

So how do you improve experience? So is it different types of offerings with food? Is it different hours with food? Is it Wellness services, where you may have had a gym before, but now you're making it a point to incorporate gyms into more spaces - just examples.

But I think to me where the industry is going is bringing that service provision up a level.

00:04:17 Karen Plum

Probably where it always should have been, right?

00:04:19 Adam Hoy

Yeah, I think so. And I, you know, we talk about a lot of the positives to come out after the learnings of the Covid working experience, and I think this is one you know where we were going to look at these types of things and make offices, labs, whatever it might be, we're going to make those great places to work and I think that'll be more than just a slogan. It's actually going to be something that we invest into, which I think as an industry and as a, you know, as a corporate real estate professional, I think it's an exciting time to be in the profession for sure.

00:04:52 Karen Plum

Yeah, I was just going to ask you, this must be gold really, for somebody who's wanted to put this emphasis into the workplace for a while, but has been caught by the cost constraints, and how can we shave the next 5% off the off the cost, yeah.

00:05:05 Adam Hoy

Yeah, I think, for sure, yeah. I think the conversations are different now, which is great and I've been blessed to work with some really phenomenal senior executives in my career, a lot of whom got this concept. But now I think doors are more widely open and they're listening a little bit differently in terms of where we get value, so I think it's definitely exciting.

00:05:30 Karen Plum

Yeah, we were talking a little while ago about talent and the attraction and retention of talent. There's lots of buzz phrases around at the moment aren't there - the war for talent, the great resignation, the great re-imagination - I mean, what are you seeing across your sector? Is there a drain of people who are now being attracted to other companies or other sectors, or is attrition staying relatively stable?

00:05:56 Adam Hoy

Yeah, I mean I think more broadly life science is a little bit more stable in terms of attrition, given the uniqueness of the opportunities within the life science industry. So if you're a scientist and you want to work on creating new medicines for people, I mean, this is where you come to - you come into the life science industry.

So I think from an expertise perspective I don't think that changes the proposition for employees, but we're still aware of the fact – ‘we’ being the industry - we're still aware of the fact that coming back to employee experience, you need to make sure that you're creating that right employee experience.

So whether that's from a policy perspective around how you allow people to work and from a service perspective and an experience perspective when they get onto your site, we need to make sure that that experience is at the level where it needs to be. So while it might not be the same in pharma or life science versus other industries, I think the learnings are still being taken, to make sure that it doesn't become an issue.

00:06:55 Karen Plum

I'm interested in whether there's a push to reduce the footprint of office space across the sector, or is there any sort of idea of rebalancing the space to give more space perhaps to laboratories?

00:07:10 Adam Hoy

Yeah, I think from a push to reduce, I would say it's kind of company dependent, right? If you have too much space, you're always going to look to reduce your space. I've worked for a lot of different companies in my career and a lot of times you're looking to remove space because maybe you've gotten into space that you don't need or the business has changed or whatever it might be.

So I think there's always going to be the evaluation of the amount of space that you have. Generally, I don't think there's a push to remove space, I think as you said it's what do we use space for? So what's the purpose of space? And once you define that, then how much space do you need with that purpose that you've outlined?

And I think the way that the general industry and corporate business as a whole, I think the use and the purpose of space is changing. And I think companies then need to figure out OK, how does our supply of space meet the new demand that we have, given the evolved purpose of space. So I think that's really the conversation.

00:08:11 Karen Plum

I was wondering about things like AI and automation, you know other ways in which life sciences is developing in terms of the core business? Are you seeing space needing to be modified or changed or reduced or enlarged to cover those sorts of new initiatives? Or perhaps not so new really, to be fair!

00:08:31 Adam Hoy

Yeah, yeah, I mean I would say those things are definitely happening within the industry. It kind of comes back to where are people doing activities and how much space do you need to house that activity. So if it's AI, you know what is the actual output that they're driving, where can that work be done?

So you know within the function we're always looking to ensure that we're giving business leaders and business groups the space that they need. There's ups and downs I would say in terms of the space needs of different types of groups, and I think it's definitely changed over the Covid period, as we know.

Different groups, they realize that they might not need to be in, or together as often as they had thought, but you know, going back to the question, I think we were always working with groups like AI to understand what the needs are and then developing a plan to fulfill that need.

00:09:22 Karen Plum

Just curious about attendance at the office. What we've seen with a lot of organisations is people spending more time working remotely than coming into the office. Obviously, you've got laboratory staff, they can't work from home, they'll need to be in the office. But are you seeing generally that life sciences businesses for non-laboratory people are moving in the same direction as many other sectors in terms of the desire to work away from the office?

00:09:49 Adam Hoy

Yeah, I would say so. I think you could look at a number of different reports that are published around different sectors and different persona types, right? Are you a knowledge worker that's office based?

I think the life science industry is pretty consistent with other industries in the sense that the turn up rates are lower post Covid than they were pre Covid. I think the interesting thing is maybe employee feedback on what they want to do longer term.

So I think you know I've seen a lot of different reports around push versus pull in terms of who's controlling that decision – is it management that controls it, or is it the employee? And I think you know the way I've seen it is life science is kind of in the middle where that the balance is trying to be struck around it becoming a mutual decision on the future of work for that knowledge worker versus some companies with the push approach saying you're going to be in 40 hours a week.

We know Elon Musk famously said that a couple weeks ago. And others, you know Airbnb as an example, saying you don't need to come in at all, and you can live wherever you want. So I think what I've seen is life science is probably in the middle of that spectrum.

00:11:02 Karen Plum

I was reading in a report - a Deloitte report recently - about all of these different things that we've been talking about - the different use of the workspace and in other parts of the report they were talking about, over the Covid period particularly, there'd been a lot of partnering and collaboration across companies. In the context they were talking about obviously the development of vaccines and how much people sort of set aside the competitive aspects to work with each other. 

And I was wondering whether that collaboration, that partnering, in your experience was happening on site, if you like, or is that an ‘in the ether’ type of thing and if it's on site, what does that mean in terms of confidentiality and protecting your commercially sensitive stuff from other people working in the building. 

00:11:51 Adam Hoy

Yeah, I mean, I think there's you know, in the general life science space, I think I've seen all kinds of different collaboration models where it might be at the larger pharma company and you bring a company in to help work on a project; or you send teams to the smaller of the companies that might have more of the IP; and then I've seen some models where you know you might go to a third location and set it up for the teams to come together. 

So I think in the industry I've seen all forms. But there's definitely partnering, I think a lot of the great work that we see commercialized eventually comes through really, really good partnerships where you have the smaller companies that are focused on specific ideas and then the bigger life science companies that have the engine and the capital to help progress those things. 

So I've seen all kinds of different models, those partnerships and those ways of workings are definitely happening. I think from a security perspective, a larger company would go through the same steps it would when setting up an office or a facility, you've got to go through the right checklist of ensuring that it's secure, and as we know, cyber security has never been a bigger issue than it is today. 

So yeah, I'd say those collaborations are definitely happening, and the bigger companies in the sector are definitely kind of adhering to their standard way of working in terms of making sure it's done in a secure way. 

00:13:10 Karen Plum

Yes, and I guess in a Covid safe way as well. 

00:13:13 Adam Hoy

For sure, yeah, you know, I think we've learned a lot during the Covid time in terms of how we bring people together safely, you know whether it be you have an A-Team and a B team and you rotate people using the office so that you continue, and if there were an outbreak it wouldn't affect the whole team; to how do you set the office up? I think Cushman & Wakefield came out with the six-foot office a year and a half ago or so with maps on how to do it.

And I think all of us kind of learned how you separate people, how you put big red Xs on desks and so I think we've learned a lot in that sense. And I think when we collaborate with others, we've taken those learnings into that into that way of working as well. 

00:13:49 Karen Plum

Yes, and being a lot more comfortable with it as well. Given all of those different models that you were just describing, have you seen, or could you see, that in pursuit of there being fewer people in the office these days, fewer people wanting to come into office space, could you see a model where two different organisations would share the same space and perhaps use it at different days of the week? 

00:14:16 Adam Hoy

It's interesting, I mean, you know if you look at coworking as an example. I mean, there's definitely the examples of where larger companies are partnering with companies like WeWork and they're using space and whether it's bespoke space within WeWork, or if it's just using the broader WeWork space, I think there's examples of both. 

It's an interesting question - would two companies share space in that sense? Maybe it could happen. If I look at the industry now, I think the way I would see it occurring would be through a third party like a WeWork where you would have them control the space and then manage how the different participants or residents would utilize the space. 

So I think it's probably happening in one way or another now, but would two companies get together and work out a deal to do that? I'm not sure I see that, but I think facilitated through a coworking partner that would be something I could see. 

00:15:10 Karen Plum

Yes, I guess the circumstance under which I could see it perhaps being more attractive, is if there was as a real pressure on cost. So that we've got this big building, it's only I don't know 40% occupied, we don't have a use for part of the rest of that space, so could we share it? I mean, maybe not with a competitor, maybe a completely different company. But you know because I think some of these models we do need to start to explore, maybe not in in life sciences or whatever, looking at the office space through 24 hours and we have to get smarter about some of this stuff. 

00:15:45 Adam Hoy

Yeah, I mean, I think if you look at it through the sustainability lens and carbon impact - how are we more efficient at the use of facilities that we know could have an adverse impact on the environment, right? So in your example, do you build another building or do you utilize what you have more efficiently? 

So I think it's an interesting concept and I think if we're thinking about you know the journey to 2030, the journey to 2050, and the different metrics we all have now, they would be an interesting view to say how does this help with the overall carbon footprint, so I could see it through that lens as well. 

00:16:22 Karen Plum

On the carbon footprint and the sustainability across the sector, is that a big focus at the moment? 

00:16:29 Adam Hoy

Yeah, for sure, so I think you know life sciences with a number of different industries, it's definitely a key focus and I've been lucky enough to work for some companies, GSK, Unilever and others that it's a key priority within the company. So it's definitely something that most, if not all, large companies are really focused on now. 

00:16:50 Karen Plum

Has it amped up since the conference last November? 

00:16:53 Adam Hoy

If you look at Paris in 2015 and then COP26 last year, I think those are the two big landmark conferences over the last decade. I would see the run up to COP 26, there was definitely an increase in activity and I think it stayed at that level since that conference, which is good, I think that's the right thing, right? I think Paris got us to a certain level, COP26 took it up a notch and I'm definitely seeing the focus maintain since that event for sure. 

00:17:22 Karen Plum

It was good to finish on the challenges of sustainability and carbon footprint reduction, which all companies are grappling with to a greater or lesser degree. 

To explore this a little further, I talked to my colleague Colombine Gardair, Director of Innovation at AWA and I started by asking her about different ways that life sciences organisations might be tackling the challenges, with particular emphasis on the expectations and experiences of their employees. 

00:17:50 Colombine Gardair

I think the life science sector has a dual challenge when it comes to travel in general, because a big part of scientific innovation is collaboration, it's exploring ideas together, it's learning from each other's research and experiment. 

And the way I look at it, there's two very important part of that. There is the conference mechanism where you go and present your research to large crowds and learn from others research and exchange and also it's a great networking opportunity and I personally, coming from a scientific background, see the value of that still happening face to face. They are part of the scientific lifestyle, if you want. 

So then there is the other aspect which is the traveling especially in an organization which might have research R&D facilities across the world, it's the traveling from one facility to another, to exchange on internal projects. And I think maybe this is where there is an opportunity to rethink how we do things and to do a bit of a shift which the pandemic has shown, people were still able to collaborate during the pandemic without the ability to travel. It might not have been ideal, but it's doable. 

But I think if you take the life science sector with people who have a need to be physically on site to be able to run the experiment, you know to be in and out of the lab, to be dependent on those physical facilities, compared to people who are only relying on the computer; those people who aren't relying exclusively on the use of computers have an advantage and you can just be at home in a quiet space, log on to Teams and or Zoom or whatever and use that as a platform for collaboration. With the right tool, innovation is possible. 

00:19:57 Karen Plum

But if you work in the lab, you can't take the lab home, right? 

00:20:00 Colombine Gardair

Well, if you work in the lab, it's like you know if you are already in an office facility because of the requirement of your job, why not go further and why not invest on actually creating part of the employee experience being to create better immersive remote collaboration facilities. Which you know, it's not easy to do from your home, but why not actually spend a bit of time and energy thinking about what might a virtual collaboration room look like, and the virtual collaborative experience feels like - in the way that is going to support the things that we know are important to collaboration and therefore innovation, such as trust, social cohesion, information sharing. 

I've talked with scientists saying, oh yeah, well, when I'm in the lab running an experiment, there are times where I might need to contact somebody who's in the US because they are the specialists on that particular piece of equipment and they might know better how to run it. 

So you know you can think of all sort of video links or ways of enabling a more spontaneous remote collaboration. But you can also think about how do we create networks and environments for maybe - we've heard young scientists in particular saying that for them being in the office and being in the lab was a great part of their work experience and their social experience. 

If you're going to allow more flexibility for people who are less lab dependent, which tend to be more experienced people in the organization spend less time in the lab and more managing the research process. So why not increase their experience by connecting them to younger researchers across your organization and create international networks that meet up regularly. I'm sure there's plenty to think about. 

00:22:18 Karen Plum

If you make it easier for people to do this remotely, then they don't have to keep traveling across the world, and perhaps they still go to a conference, but perhaps there's less need to do so if there's more opportunities to do it virtually. 

00:22:33 Colombine Gardair

The other advantage is that if you make it part of your employee experience, then when they do meet face to face, they've already created that bond and the social cohesion and the trust will just really blossom very quickly. As we're seeing in every other organization, if you start creating that social link without it being just task oriented, but if you focus on creating the social experience, even remotely, then in the face-to-face experience it blossom in that face-to-face experience, you know. 

00:23:12 Karen Plum

I guess there's also a degree to which when people are collaborating between organisations, or perhaps between the life sciences company and a university, as you say, you need that trust and that feeling of - this is a safe space for me to share my failures as well as my successes, we're only going to make progress if we can do that honestly. So it really is about the quality of the experience, I think. 

00:23:43 Colombine Gardair

Yeah, absolutely, and I think it's the quality, it's the purpose of the experience - making it so that it's not just work related and it's also maybe creating a bit of fun and giving people the opportunity to play with technology that they wouldn't necessarily see anywhere else. 

00:24:06 Karen Plum

When we're talking about the sort of the collaborative efforts that are going on between scientists, do you think that that's a very different experience, or requires a different type of quality of experience from other sorts of disciplines where people are collaborating or trying to be innovative? 

00:24:27 Colombine Gardair

So it's an interesting question. In general, in organization and sectors that have a genuine need for innovation, where innovation is the core of their business, it's not that there is need for the experience be different, I think it's the fact that they are much more inclined to already foster that collaboration and networking and exchanging of knowledge and ideas, because they know this is how it happens. 

There's maybe a greater awareness and therefore maybe a greater desire to innovate in how do we do innovation? I'm still a strong believer in face-to-face interaction and I think there is a quality of eye contact, for instance, that you just can't get on the Zoom call and we know that eye contact is something which is key to enabling trust between people. 

But I believe there is scope to sustain for longer period and improve that trust and that social cohesion in remote ways, in between longer period of time not being face-to-face. 

00:25:44 Karen Plum

And I think that whenever we have these discussions about the workplace, the emphasis tends to move towards the physical workplace and the technology. But the physical workplace and the technology are only tools and enablers to create the relationships that we need in order to be creative and innovative. Because it's the people that do it in the end, so. 

00:26:07 Colombine Gardair

If you think about the ways of working of a scientist whose spends maybe 40 50 percent of their time in the lab and therefore might need to be on site a good three plus days a week. Maybe the time where they're not on site is the time that they want to focus on head down work like everybody else. 

So if they're going to be on site for that much time, I would say let's go one step further in that workspace for collaboration that a lot of people are talking about, you know, let's think of it outside of the Cafe and the water cooler moment; let's think about a workspace for international collaboration without the limitation of physical presence. 

Because it's a lot easier to invest in the required technology to enable that in an office than it is outside of it, without being too intrusive. There's been many experiments already that have been going on for many years of all sorts of open video links and cameras in corridors where you kind of see people walking past a corridor across the pond, but… 

00:27:29 Karen Plum

Do those things work? Or do people just end up feeling like they’re on Big Brother? 

00:27:34 Colombine Gardair

It's a mixture. It's like everything else. It works if there is a decent change management that's been done. People use it only if they see a real value to it. Otherwise, it's just a gimmick, but I think that there is clearly an opportunity to reopen and re-explore those avenues because people’s relation to technology has changed over the last two years. 

00:28:05 Karen Plum

Yep, good point. 

00:28:06 Colombine Gardair

People are now a lot more used to seeing themselves on camera and not feel too self-conscious about it. They've learned to interact with people remotely. 

00:28:16 Karen Plum

I'm sure you're right that we're a lot more desensitized to it than couple of years ago. I just wanted to ask you, if you were to set about trying to figure out what was going to work for a particular team in a life sciences company, group of scientists who wanted to have more immersive experiences, or you know, to travel less and to collaborate more or whatever.  Where would you start? 

00:28:44 Colombine Gardair

I would start by trying to frame the need and the problem. Is there actually a problem to be solved? And then do a very user-centered approach. Really, getting the users’ feedback and experience. Is there a problem, what's that problem? And then think about how we can solve it? 

Because I'm sure for some it might be a very simple technological solution. For others, it might be a much more costly immersive experience, but I think the first thing to do is talk to the potential users, to try and understand what is their problem? And then cycle and iterate around that. 

00:29:32 Karen Plum

As in previous episodes, we're reminded that asking the question – “what's the problem you're trying to solve?” is a great place to start. Assuming that you know what the problem is and rushing in with a solution, isn't likely to deliver a great result. And clearly providing the very best user experience is a key requirement in this world where there's a huge need to attract and retain the skills your organization needs. 

My thanks to Adam and to Colombine for joining me on this episode. If you'd like to follow up on any of the points or to talk to us about the work we do, please get in touch. My contact details are in our show notes. 

00:30:13 CLOSE: Thank you for listening to this episode of the Changing the World of Work podcast. Please follow or like the show so you don't miss any of our content. You can find more information on this episode in our show notes, including a link to the AWA website, if you'd like to know more about us. Hope to see you next time. Goodbye. 

Colombine Gardair