I’ve talked at great length in this column about the science industry transforming so much in the past few years that the concept of knowledge sharing—and in turn being much more open about your work—isn’t really a foreign concept anymore. In fact, being connected with colleagues all over the world with regard to your lab work or any other project your organization is working on isn’t just about taking an innovative approach when it comes to the scientific workplace. From a business standpoint, embracing the virtual reality of the workplace of the future and the social media tools that allow us to keep that connectivity has in some respects become a necessity. After all, these days we are all forced to do more with less, make the most of our resources, and push out quality products on time and on budget. Social media tools are starting to allow us to do that with much more ease in the life sciences workplace.

Yet you may think that this concept doesn’t have much pull in the life sciences. It’s worth looking at some numbers to put this trend in perspective— and to take a peek at what science colleagues around the globe actually think about mobile and social media technology at work. Data recently gathered in a worldwide survey of the workplace suggests that the trend is much more important than you might think.

For the 2012 Kelly Global Workforce IndexTM, nearly 170,000 people around the world and working in all industries answered key questions about their thoughts on the workplace. A little more than 3,000 of these respondents work in the life sciences. They answered the same questions as everyone else, and several of those questions dealt with their thoughts on today’s mobile technology capabilities.

A majority of these 3,000 respondents in the life sciences (about 65 percent) did not feel that using social networking tools at work negatively impacts workplace productivity. A majority (89 percent) have never been told to stop using social media at work. Forty-three percent of respondents feel pressure not from their employers but from themselves to stay connected with their work at all times. And 51 percent strongly agree that using mobile technology of all kinds has improved their work efficiency and productivity.

If anything, these numbers show that mobile technology is being embraced by those who work in the life sciences, and managers would be wise to recognize—and capitalize on—the social media trend to make it work for business goals.

But how do you do this? Well, it can be as complicated or as uncomplicated as you want it to be. Social networking as we know it today is really at its heart just the modern version of connecting and communicating in a social setting with like-minded people or people you want to get to know. Except that today social media is the true vehicle for social networking, as opposed to, say, networking at an annual conference or a casual after-work meeting.

So much of what we do today on the job and so much of the knowledge we acquire, after all, comes from the virtual world. It could come from someone in the next city or a continent away. This is why social media sites for the sciences, such as ResearchGate.net, are gaining traction. ResearchGate.net easily connects scientists, allowing them to answer questions from peers, share research papers, and find collaborators for future projects. Essentially it is a mash-up of Facebook®, Twitter®, and LinkedIn® for the science world, where scientists can share their photos and profiles as well as their work with colleagues around the globe. Since its inception in early 2011, membership has grown to more than 1.3 million users, and about 1 million publications have been shared so far in a notable example of traditional scientific journals being bypassed in favor of the virtualization and easy accessibility of critical scientific information.

Many other science-centered social media sites are beginning to take shape. As a lab manager, perhaps your role is simply allowing these sites to be used regularly by employees. Or maybe you could explore a systematic way to invite collaboration from colleagues all over the world using these social media tools as a catalyst. You could even hire a social media consultant or workforce partner who could help you optimize your options and even help you recruit the best talent using the latest social media platforms.

However your business ends up using social media in the sciences, just know that the trend is not likely to wane. If you can get a grip on it now and explore how you can use it to your advantage, you’ll already be well on your way to succeeding in the scientific workplace of the future.

Mark Lanfear is a global practice leader for the Life Science vertical at Kelly Services, a leader in providing workforce solutions. Mark has overseen teams of scientific professionals around the world for almost two decades. He has had held leadership roles with two of the top three scientific workforce solution companies and three of the world’s top 20 Biopharmaceutical corporations. In addition, he is a feature speaker and writer at many of the Life Science’s industry conferences, universities and periodicals.