What does the post-pandemic working world look like in the laboratory sector?
The arrival of the coronavirus revolutionised office life as we know it. Meetings became virtual, coffee runs became non-existent and hybrid working arrangements took over. It is not an understatement to suggest that the world of work will never be quite the same again.
So that poses the question: what does working life look like post-pandemic? And how do laboratories fit into this vision of the future?
Across all industries we have seen:
• Increased remote working/hybrid working
• Heightened focus on employee wellbeing and work culture
• Increased and more effective use of technology and laboratory systems
• Increased automation
• More open and collaborative publishing
Written by Nicole Hawkins, Lab Innovations.
Across all industries there has been an acceleration and normalisation of practices that were considered uncommon prior to the outbreak. Remote and flexible working, and a fresh focus on employee wellbeing and work-life balance are just a few examples. Covid-19 did not bring these approaches into existence but pushed them to the forefront of discussion (largely out of necessity to continue operations throughout multiple lockdowns). These new arrangements, especially flexible work arrangements, have challenged traditional relationships between employees and employers, impacting the relationship between individuals and their work.
In their research into the resilience of the workforce due to the pandemic, Deloitte noted that work culture is of growing interest in the business world. The promotion of positive work culture is not new, but the pandemic has significantly shifted its importance to the forefront of business discussion. “Numerous studies have shown that an employer brand, the promises it makes and the internal culture that sustains, it has become among the most powerful tools to attract and retain the best talent, as well as heightening the organization’s appeal to customers, shareholders and stakeholders.” Leaders will need to foster trust in their organisations to meet the changing cultural demands of the workforce and unlock the potential to build greater resilience and flexibility for the future.
Remote working was uncommon in the pre-Covid, 9-5 office world, but not unheard of. An analytical study in November 2020 of 800 jobs in 9 countries conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute concluded that 20-25% of the workforces in advanced economies could work from home between three and five days a week. This statistic represents between four and five times more remote work than before the pandemic.
Although hybrid and remote working will be more popular in the post-pandemic era for non-manual work, it will not be a one-size-fits-all solution. McKinsey noted: “We found that some work that technically can be done remotely is best done in person. Negotiations, critical business decisions, brainstorming sessions, providing sensitive feedback, and onboarding new employees are examples of activities that may lose effectiveness when done remotely.”
Laboratory operations cannot be conducted entirely remotely either. Electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) and laboratory information management systems (LIMS) were used alongside operations schedules to ensure the active minimisation of personnel in the lab. These systems aided many companies in simultaneously reducing the number of personnel in the lab at any time while retaining the ability to work remotely effectively. However, the purpose for which they were rushed into service in laboratories was more crisis management than long-term planning. Avoiding multiple people in the lab is unlikely to become the new normal, however, ELNs and LIMS are here to stay. The benefits of these systems mean that they are unlikely to be removed post-pandemic, and this is a clear example of an acceleration of natural progression within the sector.
Laboratory automation also helped meet social distancing requirements. Again, as with technological improvements, the benefits of automation are twofold; it has helped reduce personnel in the lab for Covid-19 purposes and has increased the effectiveness and accuracy of laboratory operations. Whether this is for automated clean-up operations or enhanced remote diagnostics, the benefits of automation can continue to be reaped well beyond the pandemic. Further advances in automation are likely to be made due to the success of this rapid progression.
Lastly, the pandemic has made significant changes in scientific publishing, which has been driven by the willingness of researchers to openly collaborate to combat the virus and enable teaching and learning in lockdown. This could potentially trigger a shift in the coming years, meaning that publishing and access to scientific research will be less restricted. This would have a hugely positive impact on those who have been unable to develop their studies due to social or economic barriers.
Overall, the pandemic has forced the workforce to change and diversify to keep providing key services. This seems unlikely to change even after COVID-19 is no longer a threat – many adaptations are here to stay in future, both generally and for the laboratory industry.
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