Home working: the future for clinical trials?

By Alice Smith

The benefits of working from home are myriad and it is increasingly becoming the norm in many work places but especially in the world of global clinical trials. . With improvements in mobile technology, social media and flexible working, our world is getting smaller and increasingly more accessible, enabling the ongoing success of global remote offices.

Within clinical research, roughly 90% of employees boast some element of home-working in their working week. This is understandable in healthcare since disease and illness do not discriminate across time-zones. The pressures to develop new treatments and meet demanding deadlines in global trials has cemented the need for a global community workforce and many employers have embraced this, offering flexible working in return for better productivity and happier employees.

First and foremost, what are the benefits?

  • Better work-life balance allowing our busy home and work lives to fit around each other
  • No commute = no travel costs and more time at work
  • Increased productivity in a distraction-free environment
  • Decreased stress-levels and greater well-being
  • Positive image for the company offering dynamic and flexible working

Speaking with Clinical Trial professionals on a daily basis it is clear that the benefits are real – in order to maintain a balance between their high-pressure careers and home-life an element of autonomy is paramount. However, there are some clear disadvantages and still resistance from some employers and employees, who raise concerns about a lack of community spirit, communication breakdowns and inability to lend support easily without sitting within a physical team.

I am a tremendous advocate of home-working and from experience gained by speaking with my network it is clear this balance is essential. Perhaps you can have your cake and eat it (maybe from your home-office, with bi-fold doors that open out onto an abundant garden, dappled sunlight and the relaxing sounds of birdsong…) Here is my guide to home-working in clinical trials; how to get the most out of the positives and how to watch out for and resolve the pitfalls:

  1. Be prepared!
  • Be up and ready as if you were going in to the office
  • Have a clearly defined workspace in a distraction-free environment
  • Use your commuting time to do something proactive and efficient (stick a wash on or do your shredding)

2. Make your own community spirit.

  • Arrange regular scheduled meetings, but don’t be afraid to pick up the phone
  • Arrange an internal forum or blog to discuss ideas, random issues and to have a chat with your team
  • Be proactive and attend all social events

3. Communication is key!

  • Plan your calls to be as efficient as possible and to make sure you don’t forget anything
  • Embrace all opportunities for interaction – we sometimes shy away from a really good conversation on the phone, but the couple of minutes taken to ask someone how their day is going or their plans for the weekend can make all the difference
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for support – if you’re experiencing a problem and need to talk it out pick up the phone

With anything new, there are challenges to overcome and ideologies to shift…which can take time, but with anything worthwhile perseverance is key. I see a continued shift towards remote-working in clinical trials and with reported increases in motivation and productivity it will undoubtedly become more and more widespread. It is essential to pioneer new ways of working, develop best practices and of course, to share ideas with each other.