The Benefits of Hybrid Working in the Laboratory
The benefits of hybrid work became abundantly clear over the course of the pandemic, where digital flexible environments enabled laboratory workers to continue essential projects.
Today, job postings for four-day work weeks are up 90% in the wider recruitment market, as employers compete for talent.
However, as scientific organisations look to the future many are left questioning the long-standing utility of a hybrid work environment.
In this article, I’ll explore:
- What is hybrid working
- The key benefits of hybrid working in the laboratory
- The importance of technology in hybrid work
- How to prepare for hybrid task management
The key benefits of hybrid working in the laboratory
Hybrid working refers to a work model where employees split their time between working onsite - whether that be in a laboratory, office or workshop, with working at home. While remote and hybrid working models predate 2020, alternative work models gained precedence over the course of the pandemic as lockdowns and isolation periods became the 'new normal'.
Today, hybrid working remains popular for employees and candidates who value a work-life balance. In today's candidate-led market, considering how your organisation could adopt a hybrid working model is essential to effectively compete for talent.
The key benefits of hybrid working in the laboratory
Hybrid work improves productivity
According to research from the World Economic Forum, where over 12,000 employees in 29 countries provided their perspectives on post-pandemic work, 65% of employees revealed they were more productive in a hybrid work environment.
The flexibility hybrid work provides can help improve well-being, income, and mobility, enabling lower commuting costs and more autonomy in how employees work. This flexible environment can help drive productivity in individuals who may be commuting long distances or for those who value a greater work-life balance.
Hybrid work helps candidate attraction and retention
In a talent landscape where most global STEM workers derive workplace satisfaction from a strong sense of work-life balance, hybrid work should make up a core part of your talent strategy.
Modernising infrastructure to support a distributed workforce has been cited by laboratory leaders as the most important factor for futureproofing laboratories today, highlighting the important role hybrid work models play in securing the best talent and remaining competitive in the long term.
Facilitating wide-scale collaboration
Hybrid work environments are most often technologically enabled – an adaptation that lends itself towards collaborating across multiple locations.
While digitally sophisticated labs use cloud-based applications alongside augmented reality to control experimental instruments, cloud-based applications alone still play a powerful role in activating efficient global collaboration in less digitally inclined laboratories.
In an interview with Nature Magazine, Mark Gerstein, Co-Director of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics at Yale explains how his team of 40 co-workers continue to use Zoom and Google Docs to collaborate on projects. Gerstein explains how the hybrid work environment levels opportunities for global co-workers...
“NOW EVERYONE IS EQUAL, EVEN OUR COLLABORATORS IN EUROPE OR CHINA. I DON’T THINK WE’LL EVER GO BACK TO A LARGE IN-PERSON LAB MEETING”.
Supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the lab
Research conducted over the course of 2020 reveals that gender diversity in STEM took a major toll as women faced increasing workloads alongside greater care-giving responsibilities and COVID-19-associated disruptions.
While technology-facilitated hybrid work options enabled continued collaboration and information exchange for women and other under-represented groups over 2020, gendered impacts on science and scientific collaborations persisted as some projects were and remain inflexible to hybrid work.
Embracing hybrid work environments today can enrich and broaden your candidate network, enabling you to reach more geographically, racially, and economically diverse talent compared to those who can be sourced directly within the laboratory’s local area.
The importance of technology in hybrid work
The COVID pandemic saw laboratories across the world embracing automation, digital technology, and shift-based schedules to adapt to a newly emerged hybrid model of work.
In this landscape of necessity, digital transformation efforts experienced an increased executive buy-in, resulting in many laboratories benefitting from at least some initial technologies to support hybrid work. Today, the pace of competition demands further evolution, as 69% of lab leaders believe their competitive advantage is at stake without further connection and automation in the laboratory.
While just 37% of automated lab results currently support laboratory environments, digitalisation uptake is on the incline, with internet of things (IoT) technologies supporting 77% of lab environments today. As adoption increases, laboratories are beginning to pilot more experimental tech, including robotics in traditional bench work.
In this increasingly digital environment, researchers and laboratory technicians are well equipped to manage a hybrid workload, shuffling tasks between both home environments and the laboratory.
How to prepare for hybrid task management
Hybrid task management and allocation should begin with listing specific daily expected tasks on a team-by-team basis.
Once daily tasks have been established, analyse the conditions required to complete these tasks; this could include access to the laboratory, a desktop computer, a quiet space, or video-conferencing software. Then, establish which conditions align with the laboratory and a home office before allocating specific tasks according to their best fit.
For example, sample testing requires the conditions of laboratory equipment, a computer for data logging, and proximity to colleagues and, therefore should occur in the lab. Meanwhile, data analysis requires a quiet space and a desktop computer – making it well-suited to a home office environment.
Utilise shift-based rotas to ensure that hybrid work can be sustained in a balanced fashion, enabling every employee to benefit from a flexible work environment that suits their tasks and responsibilities in the best way possible.
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