AstraZeneca’s open doors for open minds
Dr Andy Williams, Vice President Cambridge, Strategy and Operations, AstraZeneca
In November 2021, HRH The Prince of Wales officially unveiled AstraZeneca’s Discovery Centre located on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. This state-of-the-art £1bn R&D facility has been designed to bring people together around world-class science.
We chose to build our new centre at the heart of Europe’s leading biomedical cluster. Around us, we have the MRC’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology and the Institute of Metabolic Science, Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Institute, the National Heart and Lung Research Institute, world-class hospitals, the University of Cambridge and hundreds of other academic institutions and biotechnology companies.
With all these world-class partners on each other’s doorstep, we have a golden opportunity to accelerate our collective ability to turn science into medicines that improve patients’ lives. AstraZeneca has already established more than 200 partnerships across Cambridge with academia, business, and leading scientific institutions.
To address the biggest healthcare challenges facing the world today, we believe we need to keep our doors and minds open. Our vision was for a building that would help us do just that. We designed our centre to make our innovative science visible, encouraging those crucial interactions between our scientists and the surrounding scientific and medical community. That’s why the laboratories have floor-to-ceiling windows to put our cutting-edge research on display.
We also wanted the centre to be an inviting space for the wider community. Neighbours, students, school children and the public are all welcome to come and see for themselves the work that we do. When designing The Discovery Centre, architects described the building as ‘porous’ – that means visitors and passers-by are welcome not just in the surrounding gardens and lawns, but in the heart of the building where there is a green courtyard. They can grab a coffee from the café and have world-leading scientific discovery taking place all around them.
When it comes to working here, in addition to the labs we have everything from private study spaces and quiet booths to informal collaboration areas. The building was designed well before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we’d already recognised trends in working practices; in many ways the pandemic simply re-enforced ways of working we were already establishing.
We know that people often like to sit alongside those with whom they work most closely on a day-to-day basis and that different groups have different space and working requirements. While many areas within the building are open plan, we’ve tried to move away from a one-space-fits-all idea and be more fluid. We have ‘neighbourhoods’ to enable groups to be together. We designed-in flexibility of office space; there are as many seats in collaborative working areas as there are ‘traditional’ desk-based seating. A desk booking tool enables employees and teams to request the space which best meets their needs on any particular day or week.
Successful pilots have also been carried out to enable greater flexibility in the labs, through booking work spaces and scientific kit – providing flexibility of working for scientists and maximising efficiency and productivity of the increasing specialist equipment scientists are using.
In some respects it’s a workplace ‘on demand’ or a building as a service. Employees are equipped to book everything from cycle storage to parking, electronic vehicle charging, discounted public transport, their lunch, coffee and more. Using a building in this way requires well-functioning and forward-thinking IT tools and we have built applications that help make bookings quick and simple.
I think in the long-term, we’ll settle into a pattern where people will have a more dynamic relationship with the workspace, maximising opportunities for in-person collaborative working and leading-edge scientific research in the laboratories. We believe the experience of working in our building will continue to be one of the factors that attracts talent to AstraZeneca but we also recognise that over the last couple of years everyone has had to evolve their ways of working (including working remotely) which, for many, has also proved highly effective. The way the private sector, the NHS and academia came together online to deal with the pandemic broke down a lot of barriers. We want to ensure we capture and retain the best of those new ways to collaborate, both in person and apart.