We have heard a lot about how different companies are embracing the opportunities and challenges brought by the pandemic. One particular area of interest is the rise in remote and hybrid working. Different companies are taking different approaches to managing this. Novo Nordisk is a global pharmaceutical company headquartered just outside Copenhagen in Denmark. Rajiv Arvind is Associate Director of Communications there, working mainly on communications on diabetes brands. 

A question of geography?

Rajiv suggests that one factor influencing decisions about hybrid working is geography.

At Novo, its up to team leads to decide their approach: there is no overall company policy. I work across three other teams as well as my own, so I try to be in the office to coincide with my stakeholders whenever I can. However, his own team leader is very flexible about her team, and while it may be Scandinavian attitude, it is also the reality and the world post-covid we live in today.” 

He explains that the company has decided to reduce travel as a matter of policy, but not because of cost. 

Its to ensure we reduce our CO2 emissions to meet our climate responsibilities, a part of our Circular for Zero strategy.”

The reduction in travel has been associated with an increase in virtual participation in internal meetings. Rajiv notes that there is no stigma to virtual attendance. He estimates that around 90% of his own meetings are now hybrid. He has also noticed a trend towards more virtual meetings with customers, but this is coupled with some challenges.

I think people are happy to meet face-to-face when they can, but I also see that people appreciate the ability to join and participate in discussions from wherever they are. They seem to like the flexibility, especially of not having to travel. However, some teams are finding the travel restrictionschallenging, especially if they work across major markets and several geographical regions and prefer a face-to-face meeting.” 

The downside of remote meetings

Rajiv has noticed a change in the approach to meetings among employees at Novo Nordisk. He highlights several issues.

While there are many pros to working hybrid, there are some downsides as well. I see a lot more meetings taking place overall simply because its so much easier to have a meeting with Teams. Many of these meetings could have have been a quick 5-minute chat over a coffee or a phone call, which now is taken as a 30 minutes meeting over Teams. Sometimes there are also extrapeople in virtual meetings that decision-making can slow down. Another downside of remote meetings is that if youre geographically removed from the bulk of the team, you might be at a disadvantage due to the time difference. 

He adds, however, that there are some benefits to video meetings. 

I think that apps like Zoom and Teams have conditioned people to switching on the video. I certainly feel much more comfortable on video than I used to. You can read people better when you can see their faces, and people are also getting better at expressing themselves on video.”

Valuing boundaries

Rajiv comments that he values the flexibility of being able to work remotely, but also sees advantages to being in the office.

I appreciate the boundaries that working from the office affords you. The office doesnt merge into your home life, and theres a lot of positive aspects to a well-established office-based routine. Ive found in the past that the demarcation lines can become blurred when you work from home. There are also lots of aspects to the experience of being in an office that are not to be undervalued: a canteen, the ability to network, encountering colleagues, the gym, meeting up with your teammates in person.”

He suggests that the pandemic has helped people to learn to manage the boundaries, but that employers also have a role to play in ensuring a good work–life balance and good mental health. 

Open discussions about our mental health are actively encouraged at Novo Nordisk in a variety of informal ways. Corporate responsibility, sustainability, and mental health are all topics that are constantly on our internal agenda. It is not something that is taken lightly and that’s a very good thing.”

The long view

Cultural norms in the broader society play an important role in how fast and how deep hybrid practices will develop. For multi-nationals like Novo Nordisk, steering a fair path is key. The pragmatic approach being taken is commendable.