By Roger Humphrey, JLL
Are you finding that data scientists, engineers, and IT professionals — the lifeblood for future medical device innovation — are exceedingly hard to find? Those positions are among the most difficult to fill, according to a recent Korn Ferry Futurestep survey. And, medical device companies are going head-to-head with healthcare, life science, and tech organizations to battle it out for the cream of the crop.
To come out on top, some medical device companies are dedicating more attention to the workplace as a competitive differentiator. Investing in smart real estate and facilities strategies can pay dividends in helping companies win and retain the best talent. What’s working?
Plant Yourself Near The Source
Cities like Boston, San Francisco, and New York City have a wealth of life science, healthcare, and medical device resources, as well as established talent pools that medical device innovators can plug into. The live-work-play lifestyle of these urban settings strongly appeals to young professionals.
But, if you’re not already there, it can be challenging to find a way in. Nearly all of the top 10 life science clusters are short on space, and rental prices keep climbing higher. Paying a premium for office or lab space can be a tough pill to swallow, especially when combined with the rising costs of R&D, wages, and healthcare. A few alternative strategies are emerging as a result.
Some companies are embracing the “small, but mighty” approach. Instead of trying to put all employees in the center of the action of one cluster, big biopharmaceutical companies like Merck and Amgen are setting up smaller R&D labs across a number of major life science markets, while other employees sit in less costly facilities.
When being in the epicenter isn’t an option, the perimeter is the next best thing. The region surrounding New York City is brimming with healthcare and life science micro-clusters. In the northern suburb of Westchester County, for example, the 3-million-square-foot, mixed-use Westchester BioScience and Technology Center is being constructed near Westchester Medical Center and New York Medical College.
Long Island is another magnet for medical device technologies. It’s been galvanized by the Long Island Bioscience Hub — one of only three National Institutes of Health-designated research evaluation and commercialization hubs. Long Island’s relatively affordable rent, at an average $25 per square foot, is another bonus.
Develop A Unique Workplace Experience
One real estate developer is specifically targeting life science and biotechnology companies is Alexandria Real Estate Equities, whose formula for attracting life sciences and medical device companies follows the path of major tech companies like Google: make the workplace an experience. For example, the developer’s Alexandria at Torrey Pines, in San Diego, is pegged as “creating a new standard for how work intersects life.” It offers tenants large conference rooms, a fitness center, an outdoor patio area and restaurant, and other shared amenities. The end goal is to make work a place where employees want to hang out, and can find a relaxing setting for recharging or collaborating with colleagues.
Of course, an organization’s budget may not be large enough to land a spot in a brand-new development with the latest amenities — but that doesn’t mean you’ve lost the game. What you can do is create a unique, engaging, productive environment for employees wherever you are located. Workplace “happiness” is the top characteristic of a unique work experience, according to a JLL survey of more than 7,000 employees across multiple industries.
What does “happiness” look like? Ultimately, employees are happiest when they work at a place where they feel supported, productive, and fulfilled. The physical environment has a big influence. Think about factors like the layout of the office. Are employees restricted to one workspace, or do they have the option of moving to different settings, such as private rooms for heads-down work, or open spaces where they can plug into the group buzz? Do labs support the evolving needs of researchers and scientists?
JLL’s workplace survey found that, more than anything, employees need a fresh place to unwind when pressures run high during the day. Does your workplace provide a place for relaxation? It could be as simple as a room with a coffee station and healthy snacks, or a quiet room reserved for 10-minute meditation sessions.
Build An Entrepreneurial Environment
Employee priorities are constantly shifting. Five years ago, a top selling point for job candidates was a good benefits package. Today, it’s all about culture. And, what employees want more than anything is the freedom, flexibility, and support to do a good job. Empowerment is an intangible characteristic that must be built into a company’s culture, and the physical environment can either reinforce or contradict it. Small factors, such as smart building technology that allows employees to personalize the temperature of their office, or a mobile app for reserving the workspace of the day, give employees a greater sense of control and can improve their productivity.
Facing a relentless pressure to innovate, some medical device companies also are exploring ways to design more inspiring workspaces. Innovation doesn’t necessarily strike in mysterious ways. You can plan for it by creating formal and informal collaboration spaces. Comfortable lounges or cafés aren’t just a perk — these spaces bring people from different parts of an organization together, sparking new conversations and ideas.
Companies are applying the “accidental collisions” theory on a grander scale as well, examining ways to be more intentional in collaborating with customers. For example, Johnson & Johnson’s Medical Device Companies recently opened an innovation center at Texas Medical Center in Houston, where the two entities can prototype and test new medical technologies.
It’s almost a guarantee that employee and workplace priorities will look different in another five years. Above all else, real estate strategies must give organizations the agility to easily adjust course. Look ahead to how the workforce itself is changing, as well as the types of workspaces needed for today’s — and tomorrow’s — innovations. How many assigned offices do you really need? Will you need more space for data analysis, and less space for labs? Will there be greater use of contract workers or resources? Can rooms be used for multiple purposes?
Real estate and people are enormous investments. And, when facility strategies go wrong, your organization may pay the price by losing good people. Keeping the employee experience and growth plans at the center of real estate decisions will help you develop the right equation for long-term success.
[Editor Note: The JLL workplace survey referenced above can be accessed on the company’s website.]
About The Author
Roger Humphrey is Executive Managing Director of the Life Sciences practice at JLL, where he guides a team of more than 2,400 professionals helping medical device, pharmaceutical and biotech companies reduce costs and boost productivity throughout their real estate and facilities portfolios. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.