GSK – When flexibility enables business performance
Company name = GSK
Industry = Pharmaceutical and consumer healthcare
No. of employees = 1,250
GSK is a science-led global healthcare company with a special purpose: to help people do more, feel better and live longer. In Australia, they offer a broad portfolio of innovative and established vaccines and medicines in respiratory disease, HIV, and oncology. Since the pandemic began, they’ve been seeking ways to harness their scientific expertise and technology to make a difference. As a result, GSK is working with several partners to develop potential COVID-19 vaccines and treatments as quickly and safely as possible.
With 1200+ Australian employees usually working across multiple sites, as well as out on the road, the organisation faced some unique challenges adjusting to the restrictions implemented around the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With office staff working from home, field teams switched to virtual customer engagements, and manufacturing teams had COVID-safe plans and additional PPE provided.
Across the organisation, various practices were rolled out to empower their people and help with productivity. These included regular leader-led communications with the entire workforce via different channels (written, live, interactive tools and video) to keep everyone connected and updated, as well as meeting-free Wednesday afternoons to help prevent virtual meeting fatigue.
“I’m blessed to work for a company that allows me to put the community first during difficult times.” – Anh, Senior Scientific Advisor, Vaccines, GSK Australia
From a well-being and support point of view, GSK provided virtual exercise classes and one-on-one health consultations, a ‘Have a meal on us’ voucher for all employees to share with their families, and funded school holiday programs to help parents juggle work and caring responsibilities. Additionally, they enabled teams to volunteer during work hours as healthcare professionals to support COVID.
As teams adjusted to the new ways of working, keeping people engaged became the focus. Understanding the importance of human connection, GSK delivered more frequent and authentic communications to employees.
One of the most powerful tactics was encouraging leaders to be vulnerable. A great example of this included one senior leader sharing his personal experience of struggling to balance the demands of home, kids, and work. He spoke about re-planning his workday to allow him to go for a bike ride and then taking some leave purely to recharge. This sharing of personal experiences and challenges by leaders was quite impactful.
Discovering the personal benefits of flexible work and leading by example.
“Since I started at GSK in February, I’ve been working from my home in Sydney and travelling to the office in Melbourne for a few days every month to spend time with my team. I often have global videoconferences in the evenings in addition to working during business hours. Working from home most days allows me to juggle work and personal commitments in a way that I couldn’t if I had a regular commute.
I’ve previously supported team members to have flexible working arrangements but hadn’t sought one for myself because I needed to collaborate so much with other office-based staff. What I find now is that so much of that collaboration can be done just as well virtually. I also love being able to lead by example – my team knows that I’m working flexibly, so they know I support them in finding an approach that works for them and their lives.” – David Pullar, Director of Communications, Government Affairs and Market Access
When challenge presents opportunity
All these changes to ways of working precipitated several positive changes throughout the business – particularly with culture. To hold onto these new ways of working & learnings while driving performance & supporting personal wellbeing, GSK implemented new ways of working principles for office-based roles, titled “Performance with Choice”.
The objective was to have all employees who carry out office-based work do that work in a place and in a way that enables them to perform at their best, based on their role, team, and personal preferences and circumstances.
All managers of people who perform office-based work would discuss what this way of working is for everyone, with conversations anchored in safety and driving individual and collective performance while creating more flexibility about where and how office-based work is done.
Essentially, the principles were more about cultural change and helping teams perform at their best than merely a policy change.
Since implementing them, they’ve seen an increase in:
- Teams coming up with their own meeting/operating rhythms to create opportunities to connect and engage;
- Some team members who relocated to regional areas during COVID are continuing to work remotely for the long term;
- Hiring and onboarding remote new starters who are based in locations away from the head office;
- Job sharing in roles; and
- People working condensed hours / compressed working weeks.
“We’ve created a new word and it’s “flex-pathy” – a combination of flexibility and empathy. Empathy has been really important because no one individual goes through this crisis in the same way. And that’s where flexibility comes in” – Christi Kelsey, GM Pharmaceuticals GSK Australia
GSK has taken the approach that flexibility is individual, and one size does not fit all. Throughout the business, employees have embraced a blended model mixing working from home and the office. This has been backed by leaders’ role modelling flexible working and trusting their teams to perform at their best while supporting their personal wellbeing.
From an external talent perspective, flexible working has become a key part of GSK’s employee value proposition and greatly contributes to their ability to attract and retain talent. Becoming location-agnostic has resulted in a widening of the recruitment pool as the organisation is now able to go where the talent is. This is being seen across all levels of the organisation, with a member of the executive team recently being hired remotely.
GSK’s commitment to embracing change and innovating its processes has helped the organisation effectively navigate the pandemic with no job losses or major downtime occurring. Having maintained business performance, they also experienced an increase in loyalty and engagement from employees and are now driving their culture to new heights with flexibility as the core enabler.
“Flexibility means having the reassurance that I can pause my day whenever my child needs me and knowing that I can pick up my work at a time and location that suits my family’s time.”- Jalene Tiu, Senior Brand Manager
The 2021 FlexReport bridges the gap in expectations between employers and employees. It examines how new hybrid ways of working are being used to enable growth out of the adversity faced through the pandemic. Growth, both in the corporate sense as employers redefine the future of work inside their organisations, and on an individual level as employees reprioritise the different parts of their lives – inside and outside of work – and how they want to grow personally.
Download the full report here.