Future of Work in Clinical Research
When SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing the disease COVID-19) broke out in 2020, the clinical research community needed to pivot quickly and move to remote-based modalities. While the pandemic is not yet over, the community has moved out of the acute stage where everyone adapted quickly due to shutdowns and changed priorities. Now we must work together to figure out what the “next normal” will be, taking lessons learned from research management and conduct over the last 18 months.
In order to gain a better understanding of daily working situations before the pandemic and moving forward, Advarra conducted The Future of the Clinical Research Workforce Survey. This report reflects survey findings, illustrating key factors affecting future work modalities.
The infographic below highlights what our survey participants had to say about what their working situation looked like prior to the pandemic, and what they anticipate it will evolve to as we move out of it.
The Future of Work in Clinical Research
When analyzing the survey data, we found four key findings:
- Organizations are less confident they will have enough research staffing
- In all clinical research sectors, remote work is here to stay
- All study conduct aspects are leaning towards remote
- The type of activity performed relies less on location modality than organization type
Organizations Are Less Confident They Will Have Enough Research Staffing
When asked about their perception of their organization’s staff levels pre-pandemic versus what it may look like in the next 12 months,
- 52% of respondents indicated research staffing would not change
- 48% predicted staffing level changes
- Of the 48%,
- 27% felt staffing levels would improve
- 73% felt staffing levels would worsen in the next 12 months
- Of the 48%,
Responses also indicated “numerous” or “widespread” staff shortages rose from 15% to 29% in the current era, with all role types anticipating shortages. However, organization types varied in their staffing perception for the next 12 months.
- Sponsors and independent research sites were the most confident of academic staffing pre- and post-pandemic
- Academic medical centers were least confident
Remote Work is Here to Stay
When asking about pre-pandemic work locations, 71% of respondents worked on-site. 48% of these respondents are anticipating their organization will have them work more remotely permanently.
This trend also affects those who worked more of a hybrid structure – 61% of respondents working a hybrid work week indicated they expect their organization to have them stay home more often than coming in. For those who travel for work, 40% think they will travel less than they did before the pandemic.
As a whole, each organization type in the industry is expecting to see a decline of staff fully on-site.
- For independent research sites,
- 84% of respondents reported working fully on-site pre-pandemic
- 69% expect to report fully on-site post-pandemic
- For hospitals and health systems,
- 91% of respondents reported working fully on-site pre-pandemic
- 38% expect to report fully on-site post-pandemic
- For cancer centers,
- 86% of respondents reported working fully on-site pre-pandemic
- 43% expect to report fully on-site post-pandemic
- For academic medical centers (AMCs),
- 80% of respondents reported working fully on-site pre-pandemic
- 28% expect to report fully on-site post-pandemic
- For sponsors and contract research organizations (CROs),
- 33% of respondents reported working fully on-site pre-pandemic
- 8% expect to report fully on-site post-pandemic
Results found organizations running fewer clinical trials have a higher on-site return rate, and larger organizations are more likely to cut back on their on-site staff, doubling their rate of expected fully remote staff post-pandemic.
On an individual level, staff perceptions of where they want to work has also shifted as well. When asked where they would like to work from post-pandemic,
- 36% of respondents want to return fully on-site
- 45% want at least weekly on-site time post-pandemic
Study Conduct is Leaning Remote
Pre-pandemic, respondents indicated a majority of their tasks were performed on-site – only one-third of respondents said tasks were done in a hybrid or remote fashion. However, 80% of respondents said the following tasks were performed fully on-site pre-pandemic:
- Participant-facing visits: pre-screening, treatment, and follow-up
- Participant consent discussion
- Investigational product (IP) management
Post-pandemic, these were the only three tasks with more than 50% of survey respondents expecting to perform them on-site. While other study tasks varied from 66-78% pre-pandemic, the rates dropped, with 33-47% reporting they will perform that task fully on-site.
Performed Activities Rely More on Organization Type
For every organization type, respondents stated they were seeing a decrease in fully on-site tasks. AMCs, hospitals/health systems, and cancer centers were the top organizations to report a change in clinical research task performance location.
- Of these, AMCs reported the largest shift, anticipating many document-based processes and workflows to move either hybrid or completely remote. No more than 30% of respondents expected to perform these activities fully on-site.
However, even with speculation, there are many unknowns.
- Many respondents stated they didn’t know their organization’s plan moving forward
- One in four respondents indicated they weren’t sure where their organization will have them perform tasks
In times like these, organizations must effectively communicate any policies and processes from the top down, ensuring everyone understands what is expected of them.