Therapeutic Dose: How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?

Our 'humble narrator' offers a counterpoint to last month's column on oursourcing; here, he makes a case for telecommuting.

By Emil W. Ciurczak, Contributing Editor

While making lunch for my wife, who was (once again) working from home, she commented that she works longer when she stays home. She doesn’t have to shower and dress up, drive to work, put in a workday, then drive home again. Since I too work out of my house, that got me thinking about the benefits of telecommuting.

I like the way I do business because I can set my own schedule. I can do errands during the day on weekdays, even if that means writing a column at night or on a weekend (while TIVO records my New York Giants game). Many companies are allowing their employees the freedom to work at home. [Among IBM’s U.S. employees, about 40% – over 51,000 – do not have a dedicated company office. Of those 51,000, 20% work from home, while others “float” from IBM sites to customer sites.]

This is not, by a long shot, a common practice in the pharma industry. Often, security is listed as the number one reason for not allowing telecommuting. Indeed, I remember a coworker almost being dismissed for taking his notebook home to complete his write-up of a project. But (don’t I always have one of these little guys in here?), that was then. Is security a real reason or yet another “straw man,” cited to help preserve the status quo? [Keep in mind how hidebound the industry is and what that is doing to PAT implementation.]

Every day, banks transfer billions of dollars, euros, yen, etc., electronically without fear of loss. Even the pharma industry is getting into wireless control and electronic lab notebooks. We have 21 CFR Part 11 because of electronic submissions and we lean heavily on e-mail and electronic transfers of Word and PowerPoint files. In light of these facts, it almost seems oddly quaint that the industry does not allow telecommuting.

You may argue, “How can a chemist or pharmacist work at home? Doesn’t he/she need a lab?” Well, yes, and I am not suggesting that we do chemistry at home, but (again!) how much of our work is actual lab time versus write-up time? I joke that, when I started in 1970, we spent four and a half days doing chemistry and Friday afternoon writing up our notebooks, whereas nowadays, we work half a day in the lab and write for four and a half days.

“But,” you may say, “even if I could work one day a week from home (off -or on-line), what good would it do?” Well, it has been estimated that 74.2 million gallons of gas would be saved if 32 million American employees worked at home for only one day a week! [And there were already 28.7 million telecommuters in 2006.] Since, pretty much any project we work on “in-house” could easily be copied and taken away from the company site, if we were so inclined. Simply typing reports at home is hardly a security risk.

What about chain of custody for a cGMP-based report? Well, even if I logged on to my central computer (at work) from home, modern software (all GMP- and Part 11-compliant) would show every keystroke and by whom it was typed. [IT is the new Big Brother.] We could work on the report, only accessing a copy of the secured data (just as we do now in the lab). It turns out that there are roughly 19.1 million telecommuters who already have a high-speed internet line at home. In fact, 30% of managers and professionals now work at home, at least part of the time.

Further, what’s wrong with being “green?” Think of the savings in air conditioning, heating, lighting, computer time, parking spaces, cafeteria meals prepared, etc. The “carbon footprint” would be reduced, and the fuel bill would be lower, too. If we are serious about curbing the costs of drug products, QbD/PAT should include any and all cost-saving, productivity-increasing ideas. Outside the box? @#$% the box! Use common sense and stop ignoring unconventional ideas: it’s 2007, not 1956.

And, if the economics aren’t enough of an incentive, think about a happy workforce. Some 67% of employees polled say they don’t have enough time for their children. A contented family person is a better worker.

References

  1. The Deringer Research Group
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  3. Teletrips
  4. Families and Work Institute
  5. The Journal News (Westchester, NY, edition) 7/22/2007
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