How STEM organisations are responding to COVID-19

SRG recently ran a survey among HR and procurement leaders in STEM to ascertain how organisations have been coping amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Just under a third of our respondents were in the pharma sector, with the remaining being split between biotech, medical devices, manufacturing, chemicals, analytical services and academia.

In terms of size, these organisations ranged from headcounts of 1-49 (13.79% fell under this bracket) to 5,000+ (the largest headcount cohort with 27.56% of responses).

28.57% had placed staff on furlough since the start of the pandemic. However, the mass furloughs seen in other industries do not seem to have affected STEM: 50% of organisations that furloughed staff placed less than ten people on furlough. Interestingly, all of those who furloughed staff say furloughed colleagues had started to return to the business at the time of their response.


Amid our industry’s ongoing efforts to provide adequate PPE supplies and find a working COVID-19 vaccine, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see low furlough rates. Indeed, two-thirds of respondents’ business environments encompass either laboratories, manufacturing plants or both.


To better gauge how external market factors are impacting workforces we asked respondents how COVID has affected shift patterns for non-remote workers who are required onsite. 62% said their employees’ working hours had changed, 7% said their employees have had their working hours spread across a 7-day week and 31% say they’ve had to increase the size of their workforce to cover new shift patterns.


Of those who answered “employees working hours have changed” nearly half (46.15%) said that their organisation’s employees are working more hours.


 SRG COVID-19 Pulse Survey Autumn 2020


To ascertain the extent of remote working in STEM we asked respondents what percentage of their workforce was currently working from home. Two in five respondents answered between 41% and 60%, suggesting that STEM businesses are taking a blended approach to working from home patterns.


When asked about how changes to working patterns had affected productivity, 41% replied “positively,” 18% replied “negatively,” and another 41% reported no change.


When asked to approximate where staff morale levels currently sat out of 100 (1 being low and 100 being high), the average response was 59.


We also asked respondents “when COVID-19 restrictions are eased, how do you plan to organise the workforce in the long run?” Roughly a quarter said all staff will be required back in the workplace, the same amount said working from home will remain optional for staff with the capacity to do so, while around a third said staff will have the option to work from home but will be required to attend the workplace on scheduled days. The remainder opted for “don’t know.”


Of all the questions we posed, the most telling response was around business confidence (“how confident are you that business will return to normal levels by the end of the year?”). 59% said not confident at all, 32% said somewhat confident, 5% said confident, and 4% said very confident.


Finally, we asked people to summarise how they felt about overall business confidence in three words. The word cloud below encapsulates the range of emotions pertaining to the near future in STEM (larger size denotes greater frequency of response).


SRG September Pulse Survey wordcloud

By far the most common responses were “uncertain,” “nervous,” “cautious,” however perhaps to balance that, the word "optimistic" also showed up frequently.  This suggests STEM organisations are doing their utmost to mitigate risk whilst remaining positive about the innovations and opportunities that the ongoing disruption may bring.



For more industry insights into the constantly changing world of STEM, stay tuned to the SRG blog or follow us on LinkedIn.

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