Culture & Community

Helping the Team Recharge in the COVID-19 Era

What a year it’s been. Remember back in March when some of us thought a brief stint working from home would be a welcome respite—no commute, no crowds, perhaps a slightly slower pace?

As we all know, that’s not how it turned out.

We joke about every day blending into “Blursday” and wryly note that we’re “living at work” rather than “working from home,” but the truth is, many of us are putting in more hours than ever before. A recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research quantified the strain: Researchers looked at digital data for more than 3 million people in North America, Europe and the Middle East and found that the average workday is now nearly 50 minutes longer than pre-pandemic. It probably won’t surprise anyone that the number of meetings is up nearly 13 percent (though the length of each meeting is down). There’s also been a significant increase in the quantity of internal company emails.

Across the biotech world, whether you’re focused on COVID-19 or not, this pandemic has driven home the importance of our collective mission to develop new therapeutics and vaccines to address a wide range of debilitating diseases. The colleagues I talk to daily are more committed than ever to this important work. But they’re also drained. This has been, quite frankly, an incredibly intense stretch for everyone, and it’s been taxing both mentally and emotionally.

Conversations with my colleagues at Schrödinger about this intensity made me realize our team was at risk of burnout, across all levels and functions. In response, we have taken a number of steps to nurture and support the employees who give their all each and every day. We’re not unique by any means; across biotech and many other industries, I’ve seen leadership teams put forth wonderfully creative ways to care for their teams during the COVID-19 era. I’m sharing details of our response at Schrödinger in the hope of sparking more such innovation. We can all benefit from sharing ideas as we seek to uplift and energize our teams.

The cornerstone of our response at Schrödinger is what we call Project R&R: We are taking a company-wide summer break the last week in August. We’ll have technical support on call to help users who have urgent questions about our software, but other than that, we are asking all 400+ of our employees around the world to rest and recharge. Like many in biotech, we typically shut down the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and we find it tremendously restorative. When everyone is on vacation at the same time, emails don’t pile up, meeting invites don’t clog your inbox, and you don’t have to worry about falling behind. It’s liberating. We hope to recreate that same feeling for our summer break.

As I wrote to the team in an email explaining Project R&R: “The best way to make sure you’re not working is to make sure we’re all not working. Please use this time, even if you’re just at home with the kids, dogs, cats, or Netflix, to unplug and relax. You’ve earned it.”

The response to Project R&R has been incredible. Employees from across the company have reached out to say how much they appreciate the chance to recuperate from the intensity of the spring and summer—and prepare for what promises to be an equally intense fall. We believe our team will not only be happier, but also more productive when they return, tackling their projects with renewed energy and focus.

In addition to the summer break, we’ve engaged with our employees through a wide variety of initiatives to keep them connected and supported. We view this as a continuum of care that we will provide to our employees throughout the duration of the pandemic.

We’re proud of our exceptional team at Schrödinger. They have risen to the occasion time and time again, doing outstanding work to meet the needs of our customers, advance projects with our collaborators and progress our own internal drug discovery pipeline. As a leadership team, we’re committed to doing whatever we can to help them thrive—including giving them a little extra R&R. They’ve earned it.

Author Photo: Ramy Farid

Ramy Farid

Ramy Farid, Ph.D., is president, chief executive officer, and a member of the board of directors. He joined Schrödinger in 2002 and helped advance the company’s computational platform and drug discovery portfolio while assuming positions of increasing responsibility before becoming CEO in 2017. Dr. Farid has played a key role in implementing major strategic initiatives, including more than 40 research collaborations and joint ventures, and led the company through its initial public offering in 2020. Dr. Farid currently serves on the board of directors of Ajax Therapeutics, ShouTi, and Oak Hill Bio. Previously, he has served on the board of Nimbus Therapeutics, a biotechnology company he helped found in 2009. He also served on the board of directors of Morphic Therapeutic, and he currently serves on Morphic’s scientific advisory board. Dr. Farid began his career in academia and was an assistant professor in the chemistry department at Rutgers University. He was a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania and received his doctorate degree in chemistry from Caltech. He is an author on 70 peer reviewed publications.

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