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Distance Articles

Active from a distance

Organizational responses to the pandemic of two companies that are part of the Forward project team, Takeda and Lundbeck

Marina Mercurio

Regional access & affairs manager, Lundbeck Italy

Mariaelena Soffientini

Market access & public affairs director, Lundbeck Italy

Alfonso Gentile

Medical director and manager of regulatory affairs, Takeda Italy

By June 2020July 14th, 2020No Comments
Photo by Lorenzo De Simone

The Forward working group remained active during the lockdown period. Thanks to the available tech opportunities the group reflected on the value of spaces that had not been appreciated as much before and learned to work and get to know brand new as well as known IT tools. The researchers and the admin workers from the Department of Epidemiology of the Lazio regional healthcare service continue to rotate to the day at the office on via Cristoforo Colombo as well as working remotely. This approach to work was the same adopted by Pensiero Scientifico Editore: head office stayed open and the publishing work and editorial projects continued as normal.
This article describes the organizational response to the pandemic of two companies that are part of the working group project, Takeda e Lundbeck. The latter decided to ask its collaborators, both office and field-based (informants, medical liaison and regional access managers) what the word distance/remote meant for them. This brief snapshot describes a varied context mixed with worry and hope.


Waiting areas and respect. We welcome distance, if it will teach us something

Covid-19 introduced a more negative meaning of the term distance, better described by the word limit (limit of 1 metre, limited access, limit to how many people can join a religious function and relationship limits). Distance can also be the gap separating a gold medal athlete from his/her opponents or, in boxing, the resistance over a distance of 12 rounds. Therefore the term distance can be the desire to win, overcome limits with willpower and training; it’s distance meant as a challenge to be won.

“The word distance makes me think about ‘something that separates’ but it used to be ‘something (a distance) to cover’. (I’d like to adopt the latter meaning and I shall.)” | “Distance means the opportunity to understand people and situations that are not physically close and that before we wouldn’t have tried to explore exactly for this reason.” | “The meaning of distance moved from being a challenge to being an opportunity to define new contact and support modalities linked to our work activity.” | “I no longer perceive distance as a physical separation from something or someone. Now it’s much more associated with the diversity (or distance between point of views) that each one of us brings around any topic. How distant are we if I think X and you think Y?” | “The distance or gap between generations: children staying home and deprived from their right to develop, and elderly people forced to adopt more restrictive measures around social distancing. The distance between the scientific data and the words of laypeople, journalists and political decisions.”

Distance is also the difference of opinion and thought that leads to discussion and therefore to development. It’s also the dimension of space and time, two measures that have always been part of our life and paced it.

“Distance from a workplace and colleagues that can be shortened through digital tools.” | “Distance consists of 350 km of daily commute to work.”

The pandemic changed the distance between companies and institutions in terms of collaborations and public-private agreements to work together. Perhaps, if we could use it to our advantage it would become a qualitative distance, in terms of space and time, overcoming the very Italian rule around the relations with the subordinates/dependents, where everyone’s time and space do not have the same value. In fact some people’s time can be wasted in waiting areas, in “I can’t now,” or “Please wait for me here,” even for hours on end. That’s the case for patients that have to go through long and convoluted care paths, waiting for their turn at the surgery for what often turns out to be a rushed visit with little care to their expressed needs. It’s also the case for workers of drug or medical device companies, who often have to endure long waiting times before being received in spaces such as corridors by a person granting them only a few minutes of attention. Additionally, they need to take advantage of the time they finally obtained and be effective communication athletes, selling the product and the company values, and just like athletes they try to cover distances in increasingly shorter times, overcoming challenges without losing hope or giving up, so they can talk about the drugs or products features and value with an increasingly larger pool of clients.

In the end the waiting room hurts everyone: doctors, nurses, community health workers and the support services for patients and their families. It hurts those who are waiting for their voice to be heard, filling a very small space and time, often with a distracted listener. The distance caused by the waiting room is the worst distance of all because it devalues and does not respect the person as a human being or as a worker. The post-pandemic phase will worsen this situation because in the rush of things the system left behind the ordinary to make space for the extraordinary.

“Distance means communication challenges.” | “Distance implies losing spontaneity and social habits, and changing inter-relational spaces.” | “When thinking about the term distance the thing that comes to mind is protection, but also the inability to communicate one’s feelings. Empathy is essential for our work, how can we be empathic and express this while maintaining distancing and wearing a facemask?”

Maybe it’s time to put things in order and give dignity to those that orbit around our national healthcare service. Distance might have taught us precious lessons.

“Always behaving in complete safety while still being in tune with the other person.” | “Learning new rules.” | “Management and organisation of work and the staff without the need for physical control.” | “The space/time distance paradoxically meant being even closer to people, sometimes even too close. It places even more value on the importance of maintaining boundaries/distances to give one another the opportunity to breathe and get fresh air.” | “Living better and reasonably. Welcome distance. Better late than never.”

The time of distance is the time to work together to eliminate the unnecessary distances, adjusting the approach to waiting rooms, because everyone’s time and space are precious.

Marina Mercurio
Regional access & affairs manager, Lundbeck Italy
Mariaelena Soffientini
Market access & public affairs director, Lundbeck Italy




At least one meter. Always connected with one another

Distance. It’s certainly the word that marked the last four months of our lives; four months in which we had to face an unprecedented healthcare emergency that strained the healthcare and economic systems of our country as well as our certainties. The Covid-19 pandemic forced a mantra in our lives: “Keep at least one meter distance,” from our work colleague, the people near us while we queue at the supermarket, from friends and relatives or from the people near us on the bus.

The concept of distance bore an even more significant weight for Takeda Italy since the integration process with the company Shire was completed during lockdown, with our resulting merge into one big company. It was a long-awaited moment and one where we would have normally shared spaces and knowledge between one another. However, we faced this time in the best possible way, bypassing the distance limitation, mainly thanks to technologies like the on-boarding program, which was created in a very short time for more than a hundred new employees, offering everything online.

IT represented one of our main resources. Thanks to past investments we now managed to remain connected. We had the instruments to work and communicate internally during the period of smart working, which is still ongoing, but more importantly, we had the tools to remain beside our clients, safeguarding patients. We reprogrammed our approach to work and interaction: we were far, everyone in their individual home, but always connected with one another. We found innovative solutions to take our business forward and to guarantee continuity of care for patients.

In line with our mission and our strategic priorities, which put the patient’s needs first, we could also guarantee home delivery services of specific drugs for patients suffering with multiple myeloma, hereditary angioedema, haemophilia and primary immunodeficiency. The service covers the entire national territory to help patients, particularly the more vulnerable ones, avoid the hospital crowds. We implemented, with the same goal in mind, apps and telemedicine platforms such as MyHospitalHub, which allowed some important Italian hospitals to remotely manage their patients in an easier and more effective way.

The company also implemented measures to safeguard the health and safety of its employees. Organisations adopt the measures outlined by the government bodies with the goal to guarantee healthy work environments. Takeda provided workers with informative material to better understand the nature of the virus that caused the ongoing epidemic and also to illustrate the main conduct and prevention regulations that everyone should implement to manage and contain the risk of Covid-19 infection in the workplace. Additionally the company approved extraordinary safety measures for the gradual return to offices, with ad hoc signs and precise conduct instructions. Takeda offered a psychological support service to help its employees face this emergency situation in the best way possible.

Basically we cannot go back. The future forces us to redesign new work and interaction models that are very likely to be focused on distancing for a long while. Nonetheless, it’s important not to neglect the importance of human and interpersonal relationships and to always focus on the patient, whose health comes before everything else.

Alfonso Gentile
Medical director and manager of regulatory affairs, Takeda Italia