5 Questions with Jim Floberg: What It Takes to Make Pandemic Testing Sites Operational

December 21, 2020

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has required a steadfast commitment and collaboration across a number of mission-critical roles – from nurses to lab technicians to manufacturing specialists to field engineers. At Roche Diagnostics, our service and support teams have moved mountains as part of this effort, delivering critical testing resources to communities across the U.S. in record time.

As part of our ongoing blog series taking you behind the scenes with individuals on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, we sat down with Jim Floberg ­– head of the Roche Support Network (RSN) – the team responsible for implementing COVID-19 diagnostic systems at hospitals and reference laboratories. He shares what it takes to keep labs operational during a pandemic, while also supporting and protecting the employees at Roche who are committing daily to make it possible.


Q: What has your experience been like leading and supporting an organization that is walking into the “battle” each day since the start of the pandemic?


It’s been unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my 28 years at Roche. Our priority from the beginning has been to ensure that employees – who are responsible for the critical work of getting testing systems at hospitals and reference laboratories up and running in record time – are able to do their job in a safe and effective manner. Our customers have been showing up to work every day to fight the pandemic, and our support teams have been right there with them from the start. This means that we, as a company, have needed to be the support team for our support teams, doing everything in our power to equip them for the job at hand.

From the start, I’ve been in awe of the commitment and perseverance of our team, which has never waned, even in the toughest of moments. Every one of our RSN colleagues shares a profound sense of purpose and is driven by a desire to not only help our customers, but to make a direct impact on their communities and the world during the fight against COVID-19. They are proud. They are humble. And they are making a difference. 


Q: Earlier this year, Roche Diagnostics committed to significantly expanding our ability to meet global COVID-19 molecular testing demand. What role has the RSN team played in fulfilling this commitment?


Like many in this fight, we’ve had to constantly evolve, finding innovative approaches to get the job done, while facing challenges and demand that no one has ever experienced before. For instance, at the start of the pandemic, we had to find a way to get a number of customers established on our cobas 6800/8800 systems. By “swarming” installations and utilizing extended resources to focus on a singular account in shifts, we were able to put testing infrastructure in place in a matter of days, vs. the weeks it typically takes. With this approach, we installed more cobas 6800/8800 systems in the first three months of the pandemic than we typically do in a year.

We also implemented on-site and virtual customer training to reduce both typical training time and the need for travel. And, we turned to new distribution methods to reduce delays for spare parts, when needed.

With these combined efforts, we’ve built the infrastructure for our customers to be able to test at scale, with more than a million of our tests now being performed each week.


Q: How have you structured your team through this pandemic, travel restrictions, etc. to be able to support customers to ensure critical testing can continue uninterrupted?


It has truly been “all hands-on deck” for us. We made a pledge at the start of the pandemic to do whatever it takes to support our customers, which required us to stick to clear priorities, including ensuring our customers were able to process and share test results quickly, and increasing capacity wherever possible.

In order to do this, we had a critical need for additional staff, so – where it made sense to do so from an expertise standpoint – we cross-trained people servicing other divisions to support COVID-testing systems in the field, reached out to those who had recently retired from relevant roles to consider coming back to support and, of course, hired more people. All of this has come together to help us deliver more installations than ever before.

Lastly, we made sure to put employee safety first, from arming them with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensuring that they had efficient access to the latest regionally specific information on quarantine guidelines, credentialing, etc. through a centralized resource hub, further reducing potential delays for our customers.


Q: What has been the response of the support organization? Recognizing the increase in installs, the uncertainty of their work on site, the challenges of travel and access.  How have they responded?


The response has been tremendous. Our collective sense of purpose has driven our team to do more than could have ever been imagined, with many volunteering to take on additional responsibilities or putting in extra hours to meet increased demand.

Our team has also gone above and beyond to recognize colleagues outside of support that have done so much to enable our people to focus on servicing our customers.  Our team has felt the care and attention of the larger Roche organization.  It’s hard not to be struck by the team spirit and partnership that has been showcased during these unprecedented times.


Q: Looking ahead, how do you predict the pandemic will change the way that we support our customers? What have you learned?


At Roche, we pride ourselves on being both innovative and adaptable, and that’s become even more important over the course of the pandemic. For instance, support that we would typically be providing face-to-face has changed to a remote service whenever possible, and we’ve had to reexamine what that looks and sounds like to ensure any questions or challenges are being resolved quickly and efficiently.

What we’ve learned from all of this is new ways to work more efficiently and cross-functionally to increase our capacity and speed. That we can change the way we do things while maintaining the quality of the products and services we provide. And that when we work together with urgency and passion towards our common goal –supporting the global response to put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic – we can achieve more than we ever imagined possible.