2020 NAHR fellows

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Tim Richmond, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at AbbVie

HRE: What is your outlook on remote work? Do you think it will survive on a widespread basis after the pandemic?

Timothy Richmond

Richmond: At AbbVie, we are committed to a work environment and culture where both employees and AbbVie can be successful, and working flexible—which includes remote work—is part of our approach. Employees and managers work together to determine when, where and how they work to drive business and personal success.

Through flexibility, AbbVie can be open and responsive to the changing business environment and varying work styles and needs of employees, while meeting overall business objectives. Flexibility at AbbVie will continue to be a priority, just as it was before COVID-19. We have supported work flexibility from our very beginning, with global guidelines and tools available to help employees be successful at work and at home. As an HR function, we have an important role in promoting flexibility for our workforce and providing resources that support work/life effectiveness.


Most companies focused on attracting and retaining talent likely already had a portion of employees who did some work remotely before the pandemic as part of their commitment to work/life effectiveness. So, while I don’t feel there will be a widespread shift among the pharma industry, for example, I do think a commitment similar to what we saw before the pandemic will be maintained.

HRE: How has the pandemic reshaped technology’s role in the HR function?

Richmond: The pandemic has really required all functions to rely on technology in new ways—HR included.

We’ve used virtual platforms to connect with each other and engage our workforce, along with providing remote learning and development opportunities and wellbeing resources to our employees. Recently, we implemented intuitive technology through a new HR portal that provides our global employees with access to robust HR and payroll information. The portal serves as a gateway to support, including a live chat feature, an integrated call center and a robust website with powerful search and customization capabilities.

Additionally, we’ve used technology to recruit, hire and train new talent. In fact, during the pandemic, AbbVie welcomed approximately 17,000 new colleagues around the world after closing the acquisition of Allergan in May. We successfully onboarded these employees remotely and created virtual culture kits to welcome them to the AbbVie team.


We also hosted our first-ever Celebration of Culture—a companywide opportunity to collectively recognize and reinforce our culture—completely virtually in 2020. More than 23,000 employees registered for events held around the world as part of this weeklong event.

Additionally, AbbVie’s investments in data and analytics capabilities over the past several years have enabled us to gain powerful insights that help decision-making and shape our HR strategy. Quick and reliable access to trends, targets and benchmarks has given us the real-time metrics needed to understand and react swiftly to challenges.

HRE: Burnout and depression are rampant among American workers during the pandemic; what is HR’s responsibility in this regard? And how does it differ from the historical HR approach to mental health?

Richmond: As we’ve come to terms with the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of AbbVie’s Principles, Transforming Lives, has taken on special meaning:

We inspire hope and transform lives every day. We make decisions based on our deep caring and compassion for people, delivering a lasting impact to our patients, their families, our employees and the community.

Consistent with this core principle, our top priority during this pandemic has been the health and safety of our employees and their families. AbbVie aims to provide support and resources so employees can be their best inside and outside of work. AbbVie Vitality, our approach to employee wellbeing, focuses on the “whole self,” empowering employees across the globe to achieve balanced lives, active bodies, fulfilled selves and healthy minds.

We traditionally offer strong mental health programs to our employees, such as providing employee assistance programs in many countries across the globe, free counseling sessions through our U.S. EAP and our annual Mental Health Awareness Month campaign.

However, this year, we are doing even more to address specific challenges and stresses created by the pandemic, including offering additional financial assistance through our new COVID-19 Childcare Relief Fund and AbbVie Employee Assistance Fund, and conducting newly created parent support focus groups, guided conversations and educational webinars led by our onsite licensed clinical social worker.

HRE: What should HR leaders be doing to advance the conversation around diversity and inclusion?

Richmond: Equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) is embedded in everything we do, from recruiting to developing, advancing to performing. It is clearly stated in AbbVie’s Principles and is a core part of our culture. For us, having a diverse team and inclusive culture is imperative. Developing and bringing innovative, life-saving medicines to patients requires diversity of thought—which is why our recruiting, hiring and development practices focus strongly on diverse talent.

As HR leaders, we set the tone and play a key role throughout the organization. We can impact unbiased hiring and promoting, pay equity, and learning and development opportunities, to name a few. In 2019, we elevated our commitment to ED&I by implementing a new global strategy across the organization—including a five-year roadmap that defines key global focus areas, objectives, associated initiatives and implementation plans by function and geography.

This spring, AbbVie demonstrated our commitment to racial equality and social justice by pledging $50 million over five years to partner with nonprofits on a long-term, multifaceted program that will seek to bring lasting and real change at the community level. Additionally, we donated $5 million to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Equal Justice Initiative to address issues in our criminal justice system. As part of this commitment, we also created two senior level roles that sit on the executive leadership team, including the creation of a new position of chief equity officer. With the broader HR team as advocates, this position aims to cultivate an environment that encourages and supports equity for all employees and fosters an environment of belonging.

I also believe listening is a huge component in advancing the conversation. As the head of HR, I conduct small-group, cross-functional listening sessions to gain feedback directly from employees on how we can amplify our culture at AbbVie, which includes ED&I efforts. The insights employees share during these conversations play an important role in informing our path forward.

All that said, ED&I is not specific to HR; it can’t be. To successfully create an equitable organization, there needs to be a focus and commitment throughout the entire organization, including among our people leaders. We aim to build this at AbbVie through new awareness and education offerings, in addition to our many employee resource groups (ERGs) and initiatives such as our Executive Diversity Mentoring Program, partnerships with historically black colleges and universities, our global Women’s Leadership Journey and Supplier Diversity Program, to name a few.

HRE: The role of HR has changed dramatically in 2020. What are the most important skill sets HR leaders of tomorrow will need to fulfill those roles?

Richmond: I believe the role of HR has not fundamentally changed but instead the significance of the role in helping drive business outcomes has become more important than ever.

HR has always been the custodian of our employees’ safety and health. We have always been at the center of discussion around flexibility and work/life balance. We have driven the diversity and inclusion agenda. And we have always been accountable to deliver the talent needed for business results, including ensuring we had the leadership to navigate through tough times. In 2020, these traditional aspects of HR’s role have unprecedented importance.

There are many skills needed to do this role well in today’s challenging environment. I believe three are elevated right now. HR leaders need to:

  • Support the business in managing short-term crises, responding to those while keeping long-term goals in mind. It means managing paradox; we need to be in the moment, while staying the course.
  • Be agile and move quickly to respond to rapidly changing circumstances. Being decisive despite ambiguity is essential.
  • Guide others: executives, board members, employees, external stakeholders, communities and more. It is a time when credibility, trust and belief are foundational, and HR plays a key role in guiding the agenda, based on this foundation.

Our role has never been more central, or more important, to the business. We will be looked to for direction and to build alignment. I firmly believe we are at a turning point in our industry—never before has HR been so challenging, so rewarding and so truly vital to the world we’re in today.

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