Dr. Leen Kawas Discusses How a Hybrid Work Model Can Offer Balance and Enhance Performance — EconoTimes
As the biotechnology industry continues its rapid growth, firms must cultivate a highly skilled workforce dedicated to moving each company forward. Workers are increasingly insisting on job flexibility, creating a challenge for businesses that only desire onsite employees.
Leen Kawas, Ph.D., Propel Bio Partners’ Managing General Partner, presented a solution in an April 2023 Forbes Business Council post. Dr. Kawas emphasized that a hybrid work model can help create balance while enabling employees to deliver excellent performance.
The Biotech Industry’s Evolving Infrastructure
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many biotechnology firms required employees to reside in the firm’s headquarters city. Because of their proximity, these workers were expected to commute to their jobs daily. This policy effectively ruled out remote work, excluding talented professionals who lived elsewhere and weren’t willing to relocate.
The COVID-19 pandemic completely changed the playing field. In early 2020, millions of workers were tasked with working remotely to minimize the virus’ spread. This number included office workers and other associates who could adequately do their jobs via targeted technology.
However, Dr. Leen Kawas noted that certain life science (or biotechnology) positions continued to require workers’ onsite presence. “But unlike the pandemic-required remote work for some industries, it was essential for some positions in the life science industry to continue to be in-person or to move into a hybrid work style,” she said.
Snapshot of a Hybrid Work Structure
A hybrid (or flexible) work structure enables employees to blend onsite and remote work within company guidelines. Each employee may possess the flexibility to design their own hybrid schedule while complying with company and/or departmental requirements. Each business may integrate multiple hybrid work schedules into its operations. Of course, the company must ensure that its workflow isn’t negatively impacted by employees’ varied schedules.
Dr. Leen Kawas Puts Hybrid Work into Perspective
With over a decade in the United States biotechnology industry, Dr. Leen Kawas has amassed volumes of institutional knowledge about the field. Specifically, she has firsthand experience in running a company while many employees were locked down due to COVID-19 restrictions. From this perspective, she offered observations on the merits of remote and hybrid work structures.
Remote vs Hybrid Work Structures
To begin, Dr. Leen Kawas acknowledged that remote work has two positive attributes. “Some people are more comfortable working from home. They want to avoid the commute and enjoy the flexibility of balancing personal and professional tasks.”
In contrast, she noted that other employees enjoy interacting with their coworkers and prefer keeping their professional and personal lives entirely separate. “Others find importance and long-lasting value in face-to-face time and hallway conversations. [They] appreciate the separation between work and personal life, and really, the soft skills that you can gain from being in an office.”
Hybrid Work’s Key Advantage
Dr. Leen Kawas emphasized that hybrid work helps to promote a more collaborative work environment that moves everyone forward. “I believe that because many Zoomers started their careers remotely, they really can’t appreciate the personal and career development that happens when they are present in person.
“While there are obvious benefits for individuals working from home, there are certainly missed opportunities not being there in person, at least for part of the time.
“Hybrid work allows for things like periodic in-person meetings that I believe can more effectively help companies get a comprehensive view of all the teams that are working on the same program. This can help build a collaborative and cohesive work environment and reinforce the sense of ownership and accomplishment for the work being done.
“When it comes to in-person meetings, though, make sure to design events in an authentic way that is purposeful and helps build strong relations,” Dr. Leen Kawas advised.
A Hybrid/Regionally Remote Structure Gains Traction
Today, a hybrid/regionally remote workforce is becoming more common. In this model, a company’s employees generally live in the office’s time zone. This makes it easy to schedule meetings, coordinate projects, and minimize lag time.
Although each business operates differently, employees might be allowed to work remotely with a predetermined number of onsite workdays each week (or each month). Teams congregate at the office for important meetings and work sessions.
Dr. Leen Kawas emphasized that this strategy is a “win-win” for biotech employers and employees alike. “The task for life science leaders is to leverage the best of both worlds.
“There are ways to give people the flexibility to work from home but also have some incentives to bring them into the office and cultivate a strong, collaborative culture. The feedback I’ve seen from employees is that they like the mix of face-to-face in-person time and work-from-home time,” Dr. Kawas stated.
Promotes a More Well-Rounded Workforce
Dr. Leen Kawas explained why biotech firms that embrace a hybrid workplace will attract workers from varied backgrounds and locations. “The bottom line is that organizations that build a hybrid and flexible workplace can attract a more diverse workforce.
“This includes young parents who appreciate the added freedom to manage their time during the day. You can hire talent that may be in a different geographical area. [This will] save on overhead costs and repurpose those costs toward intentional cultural, team- and organization-building activities.”
Certain Positions Adapt Well to Hybrid Work
Dr. Kawas also noted that hybrid work easily meets the needs of employees who aren’t required to be onsite. “Particularly, you can allow positions like project managers, program managers, and clinical trial monitors to have the flexibility of hybrid work — even mainly working from home if that is their preference.
“And even team members that need to be there for clinical studies, scientific experiments, or manufacturing runs can be given the flexibility to work from home on tasks that don’t require them to be at the lab or onsite,” Dr. Leen Kawas emphasized.
Aids in Recruitment of Top-Tier Candidates
Like other industries, hiring superbly qualified employees is key to driving innovation and excelling in the marketplace. Today’s job market is especially challenging, as many workers are limiting their search to remote (or possibly) hybrid companies.
Dr. Leen Kawas explained that businesses with flexible workstyles are well positioned to attract top-notch candidates with specialized skills. “Even with some of the constraints in biotech, companies with flexible policies are attracting top talent from competitors that are viewed as less accommodating. Recruitment firms are emerging that target dissatisfied individuals who seek remote or flexible working arrangements,” she remarked.
Dr. Leen Kawas Highlights a Major Biotech Industry Challenge
Biotech companies can reap multiple benefits from adopting a hybrid work structure. However, Dr. Leen Kawas noted that the industry faces a key obstacle that limits adoption of remote or hybrid work.
“For the biotech industry, there is a need to be in person. In fact, a good number of scientists, physicians, and clinical operations teams have continued to work in person, fully or partially, throughout the pandemic.
“Until decentralized clinical trials can become valid alternatives, operational teams that work in clinical sites will need to continue showing up in person. The same goes for many manufacturing and supply chain positions.
One Potential Remote/Hybrid Work Option
With this restriction in place, Dr. Leen Kawas said biotech employers have some leeway in allowing scientific personnel to engage in remote work. “One way an employer can be more flexible, though, is to allow a work-from-home option when scientists do not have experimentation and are simply working on reports or analyses.”
Dr. Kawas also emphasized that flexible work hours can benefit employees with other personal and professional commitments. “Overall, while working in person can be important or even essential, creating flexible work hours can help workers who need to balance their personal and professional commitments or just want to avoid traffic in their daily commute,” she concluded.
The Connection Between Employees’ Well-Being and Performance
As the biotech industry increasingly adopts a hybrid work model, Dr. Leen Kawas emphasized that blending efficiency and employees’ well-being is key. “In the end, I think it is of growing importance for organizations and leaders to adapt and create environments that enhance the wellness and performance of their organizations.
“I recommend finding ways to include coworking spaces that invite collaboration when people are in the office, digital coworking systems that reinforce the working relationship when remote, and intentional team-building activities that cultivate a strong and supportive culture.
“I believe if leaders are spending time with their teams at all levels, they can create unique work models and cultures that will bring innovation to our industry,” Dr. Leen Kawas concluded.
About Dr. Leen Kawas
Leen Kawas, Ph.D. is an accomplished bioscientist who serves as Propel Bio Partners’ Managing General Partner. This rapidly growing venture capital firm provides emerging biotechnology entrepreneurs with financial resources and technical expertise. Together, this assistance can help move their companies forward in the biotech marketplace.
Prior to co-founding Propel Bio Partners in 2022, Dr. Leen Kawas was affiliated with Athira Pharma, Inc. As Chief Executive Officer, she moved multiple drug candidates forward in the development cycle. Dr. Kawas also executed Athira Pharma’s Initial Public Offering. Her dedicated leadership earned her several industry awards.
In preparation for Dr. Leen Kawas’ biotechnology career, she attended the University of Jordan in her native country. Earning a Pharmacy degree in 2008, she completed her graduate education in the United States.
In 2011, Dr. Leen Kawas received her Doctorate in Molecular Pharmacology from the University of Washington. She enhanced her business leadership skills by completing the respected Foster School of Business Executive Training Program. Dr. Kawas’ multifaceted educational achievements ideally positioned her to excel in the rapidly advancing biotechnology industry.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes.