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Business & Regulation Business Practice, COVID-19

The Human Touch

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the world conducts business. As borders close and restrictions are imposed, activities that would have been considered normal only a few months ago (such as importing raw materials or forming a new partnership) are now fraught with difficulty. But beyond the disruption to business functions, another significant challenge for pharma is that its workforce must adjust to a new professional environment. Some are, understandably, afraid to come into work and face the risk of contracting or spreading the virus. With no clear end in sight to the ongoing crisis, it is essential that companies implement measures to protect the welfare of employees.

There are many ways companies can support their staff during these uncertain times, and one of the most obvious is to simply allow staff to work from home if possible. Many pharma companies have adopted advanced IT solutions that make it possible for employees to carry out their roles from the comfort of their homes and maintain relationships with customers and stakeholders.

But this option is not available to a large section of the workforce, including those working on the manufacturing floor. Key workers will still have to commute to and from work, and companies will have to implement precautionary measures that demonstrate they care about the health and safety of their employees. 

At the plant level, companies should consider daily sanitization of their facilities, screening employees with temperature checks before they enter company premises, and ensuring easy access to sanitizers across factories and company vehicles. Businesses can also work with local authorities to resolve some of the issues faced by supply chain and logistics staff. As an extension of support to the local authorities in remote villages in India, we distributed groceries, masks, medical kits and ambulance services along with educating their people on dos and don’ts to remain safe. As a result, the local village authorities backed our efforts to contain the spread of the virus and supported us in our operations outside our factories located in Shirwal, Dahanu and Pithampur in India. 

To maintain hygienic standards, ACG has also divided work shifts into 12 hours slots. This has helped us manage workers and ensure that social distancing is maintained. In addition, we’ve made special arrangements at our guest houses so that workers can stay close to or within factory premises wherever possible.

When putting their plans in place, it is important for companies to appeal to their employees on a human level. In countries where lockdowns are in effect, some businesses are providing their key workers with ready-packed groceries and sanitation kits to be taken home, as well as special vehicles for their commutes and additional insurance cover. Most importantly, senior leaders are actively engaging with their teams. Our leadership, for example, is closely interacting with the workforce, especially at the factory sites, to manage their concerns. Maintaining open lines of communication with employees is crucial to overcoming problems as they arise. This pandemic has proven that actions as simple as sharing the latest government updates with staff or offering online activities for them and their families to socialize or learn can make a big difference by reducing stress and demonstrating that the company cares about their employees’ welfare. 

The situation we have found ourselves in is unprecedented and, for now, the focus is on adapting to the evolving situation and protecting ourselves and our colleagues to the best of our ability. Once the worst of the crisis is behind us and the dust has settled, it will be time for pharmaceutical companies to examine the outcomes and create case analyses based on their learnings. This will help them have a ready-to-go plan B that supports employees and helps maintain business operations in the event that we are faced with another global crisis of this proportion.

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About the Author
Sunil Jha

Group Chief Human Resources Officer at ACG, Mumbai, India.

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