Elemental Machines hosted its first (but definitely not last) virtual roundtable event last week, “Resuming Normal Lab Operations Post-Covid-19 Stay-at-Home Restrictions.” What a success!
We had close to 60 attendees join the discussion, and the Zoom conferencing format (which - thanks to Covid-19 - most of us know extremely well) allowed for a great, interactive way to share information, ideas and best practices within the lab operations community.
Our two moderators – Kimberly Dougherty of Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Amanda Allen, who has worked with startups including Vivid and Dewpoint – led conversations focusing on how companies plan to safely bring their employees back to work – and what the ‘new normal’ in lab operations might look like.
Topics & Key Takeaways:
Everyone requires masks when inside their building/lab and around other people. A majority of the labs also require gloves, temperature checks, & self-assessments. Some companies use contact tracing via key cards or bracelets, along with video surveillance in case anyone tests positive for Covid-19.
Occupancy & Staffing
To handle capacity restrictions, most companies are prioritizing projects & insisting on remote work for any tasks that do not require being in the lab. Benches, equipment, and meeting rooms have been spaced apart to allow for proper social distancing. In some cases, shift work or working in teams has been instituted. Most companies are not allowing employees to use public transport (or ride-shares & rental cars) so if there is no way to get in safely, those employees are not part of the first wave of employees to return to work. There are always exceptions - critical personnel & certain situations are of course, handled on a case-by-case basis.
Vendor Management – PMs, Calibrations & Support Services
Most companies reported if vendors or service providers are still coming in, it is only with proper PPE (same requirements as internal staff) and following capacity restrictions. Virtual support has been increased by many providers to decrease the need for on-site visits. In some labs, maintenance has been pushed off if not completely necessary (e.g. if Preventative Maintenance was needed to stay compliant).
Although the majority of labs reported doubling, or even tripling, cleaning services, one shared-lab space reported they felt having extra cleaning staff around put their internal staff at risk – they instead only allow cleaning crews to come in when lab personnel are not in the building.
This last topic was one that everyone could have continued talking about for hours, as it posed the question – what will the new normal look like in lab operations? Some of the feedback was that occupancy will obviously decrease in the near-term, but this decrease may be permanent. More people will work remotely & benches and equipment within labs will remain as spaced apart as possible. There will be an increase in virtual support services – whether it be through new subscription models or service plans. The importance of remotely monitoring lab equipment will increase, as will the use of collaboration tools. Touchless interfaces, voice, AR/VR, and other new technologies will be considered more quickly. The “Lab of the Future” may become a reality sooner than many expected.
The truth is - NO ONE really knows what will work best, long-term, but the ideas and suggestions discussed during this roundtable gave everyone participating some pretty great information.
We’re excited to foster this community of lab professionals & look forward to continued conversations covering more topics of mutual interest in the coming months. Stay tuned!