A lab assistant working from home? Unheard of. Like in many other professions, their work centers around expensive, specialized equipment. And while it is true that some parts of the work have to be performed on-site, some aspects could be done from anywhere – given the right setup.
The enforced new normal
During COVID-19, many companies decided to let their staff work from home in order to minimize the risk of infection.
While the shift to home office has been a burden on companies, making the switch for the typical office worker is rather easy: Hand out a laptop, decide on a company-wide video conferencing provider, and forward all calls to mobile – done. This allowed thousands of companies to safeguard their employees in a hurry.
But what about those businesses that require physical presence?
Thousands of companies implementing flexible work policies might be a blessing for some. However, even in the most service-oriented economies, a large share of work still happens on-site: physical processes, expensive equipment, or centralized handling of goods make it impossible to simply adopt different work practices through the above measures. They require creativity.
How to enable laboratory staff to work from home
Labs fall into the category of companies where the home office is problematic. Not only is the equipment expensive – a single piece of equipment can easily cost as much as a new car – but several gadgets are generally used within the same process and shared between people.
One of our customers was able to change this paradigm by digitizing and automating their laboratory. The full story can be found here but to cut a long story short, by separating physical handling – i.e. preparation & capturing of images – from analysis, they were able to split the team in half: one working on-site, one analyzing the information from home.
This was possible by purchasing an automated microscope that needs to be loaded with samples once per day. This allowed the team to work asynchronously as opposed to operating loading and analysis at the same time and place.
Besides the added safety aspect, the company was thus able to
- Decouple the timing of different activities: Separate manual handling from analysis
- Increase focus: Work on one thing at once
- Work from anywhere: From home, during the commute with public transport
- Work when possible: at night, when children are in school, on a Saturday
What does the future hold?
As with every other company that has shifted to work from home during the Corona pandemic, they too may ultimately decide whether this "new normal" has a chance to prevail. At the very least, the company has created an option for more flexible work arrangements – which is certainly desirable by some employees today and may become increasingly important as talent shortens even further.
Taking this principle even further, this step can also be seen as a potential structural shift: While labs are currently working mostly in isolation, this new setup allows re-allocating the analysis part, whether to the best-suited candidates within the firm or externally – the best person to do the job, not the one who happens to be present.