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This Is How It Used to Be

Thoughts on the Lockdown and its Impact on our Laboratory

This is how it used to be. You would enter our place through the front door next to a big Anatune logo on your right and downstairs, at the rear of the building is our laboratory, measuring around 1,200 square feet.

Upstairs we have around 2,000 square feet of office space, accommodating around a dozen people, including the lab staff, who would come and go between their desks, meeting rooms and the lab downstairs.

Occasionally, the lab staff would work from home if they had some writing to do, or some chunky data analysis to complete. The truth was that our open plan office was not the best place, if you had some work to do that required uninterrupted concentration.

Most days, most people would arrive at 8:30 and leave at 17:00, catching the rush-hour traffic in both directions

That’s how things were until 4 weeks ago.

Then, you can’t help but notice, Covid-19 happened and working from home became an imperative rather than an option.

I guess that we all suspected that there was a better way to work, but to kick-start any change, there has to be an activating event and Covid-19 was it.

For a team of people who are used to coming into work every day, this represented a pretty radical shift in their routines.

Now, working on a rota system, a couple of people come in each day to load samples, reconfigure instruments, carry out any physical maintenance needed, their job is to minister to the physical needs of everyone’s instruments and with their remaining time, go about their regular duties, as everyone else did when things were normal.

Everyone else works from home.

Via an internet connection, they dial in to monitor instruments’ progress and access data, using Microsoft Teams they attend virtual meetings and collaborate with colleagues and have the peace and quiet that is conducive to writing and planning. No trousers necessary.

People organise their time, blending personal and work tasks together with less stress and more efficiency. Concentration is broken less often. Systems are tinkered with less. Instruments are given attention when they need it. Productivity hasn’t just survived, it thrives.

Our experience chimes with this study that found that people who worked from home were 13% more productive than those who worked in open plan offices.

Our office space is pretty much empty for most of the day – save for Mike dutifully manning the phone and administering all that needed administrating (thanks Mike).

The teabags and milk last longer, the WIFI is faster and most amazing of all – the notorious A14 traffic jams have ceased to be a problem.

This has got us thinking that we need a lot less office space than we previously thought.

Until very recently, we were considering expanding into the vacant unit next door to our existing office. After these forced changes to our ways of working, that now seems an absurd idea. We can almost certainly substitute existing office space for additional lab space.  In fact, we can probably increase both the footprint and output of our lab by about 50% without having to move out or expand the space we currently have.

A lot of time is wasted in unnecessary commuting

On average, here at Anatune, we each spend about an hour commuting. Working as we do now saves us collectively about 6 hours every day. Time that would otherwise be spent, stuck in traffic.

If Covid-19 had happened 20 years ago, we would be then have had to cope with rudimentary dial-up internet, no broadband, no video calls, no smart phones, no cloud storage of data and no ability to dial into our instruments from the kitchen table. Now there is a scary thought.

Here is another thing to consider: in our laboratory, virtually all of our sample preparation is automated. If we didn’t have that, we could never work remotely as we are doing now.

When normality returns, I don’t think everyone will stay away from the building entirely. Many of us badly miss the social aspect of work and some of the most creative and productive conversations occur around the lunch table – something too valuable to lose.

I can imagine that we will sacrifice a chunk of our office space for a bigger lab. Being able to gain this extra capacity, without the costs of moving and without the overheads associated with bigger premises, will remove a big barrier to growing our business in the future.

As a consequence, we will employ more people and employ them more productively – facilitated by increased use of automation, a trend that will only accelerate as a consequence of the current disruption (we can safely dismiss the BBC’s alarmist headline).

Right now, things are tough for everyone, but things will improve before too long and the experience we have gained, will mean that we will be well placed to help you prosper from the upturn.

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