The R&D employment landscape
Freelance work across all sectors and industries is under increased demand as workers opt for more flexibility and control, and employers seek a more dynamic, demand-based workforce. This is no different in the life sciences industry.
There’s been an abundance of contingent work across the likes of the clinical and biometrics space for decades. The project-based nature of a clinical trial lends itself well to engaging freelancers, so roles relating to trial operations have always been viable for a career as a freelancer.
Now, in areas that’re typically dominated by permanent opportunities, we’re seeing demand for freelance workers – including in the commercial, quality assurance, and research and development sectors.
Recent trends in R&D have led to an increase in firms leaning on freelance workers due to shorter project lengths, this is a result of biotech collaborations decreasing traditional timelines as well as advancements in AI and machine learning creating different methods of discovery and ways of working.
Freelance work in action
Many biotechs and R&D functions have already adopted this HR strategy. One example is Nimbus Therapeutics, where 25 permanent employees brought a pipeline of 5 programs forward due to the assistance of 150+ freelance consultants (Head of Regulatory Affairs, Head of C\MC, Head of Stats & Programming, Head of HR) and dozens of scientists at expert CRO collaborators.
This exemplifies the benefit of utilising freelance staff to shorten timelines and bring in specialist skills to complete unique projects.
Attractive to more talent
As well as advancements in AI and machine learning accelerating timelines, general technological developments allow for full effective remote working possibilities, so staff can be brought in temporarily from abroad or remote areas to work on an R&D project without having to fully commit to a location. This flexibility allows companies to be available to more talent and not appearing inflexible only offering permanent positions. The ability to attract a larger pool of people when recruiting for the R&D team means more choice of high-quality candidates.
A key benefit of freelancers is the ability to bring on board staff with a high variety of experience within different companies, thus bringing in specialist knowledge and understanding of unique ways of working and streamlining the R&D process. This can be seen as a new injection of innovation, where there is the risk with permanent employees that similar approaches will continue to be used and unchanged. On the other hand, whilst new blood in a business can generate growth and change, there are also many benefits to consistent permanent staff who can establish a strong culture. These often softer and overlooked elements of human resource management can be pivotal of R&D businesses and functions when they are pushing for a project timeline or breakthrough, especially against competition. Employee loyalty is hard to gain from freelancers as they understand the temporary nature of their role and place in the team.
Freelance staff allow managers to use precise planning of the R&D pipeline and timelines. Knowing the projects that are coming up and being able to specifically plan the skill sets that are required can provide a competitive edge. This can also prove to be more cost effective than having permanent staff which may not be able to pivot between projects, as freelancers can be employed just for the fixed term they are needed for. One potential issue that must be considered is, if a timeline overruns or complexities arise, freelancers could come to the end of the agreed term and have to leave.
Despite the industry trend going towards freelancers in R&D and the various benefits that come from it, there certainly is still a place for permanent roles in the R&D space. In particular, permanent leadership roles are still desired, as having a consistent figure in position to establish a culture, structure and management can streamline the process of using freelancers.