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Science Matters: Better Technology, Better Life?

Nanotechnology is still early in its commercial development, but many scientists agree it could become a part of everyone’s daily life in the not-too-distant future.

by Alan Edwards
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Nanotechnology is still early in its commercial development, but many scientists agree it could become a part of everyone’s daily life in the not-too-distant future. In one example of how it could affect the way the scientific industry operates, nanotechnology makes it possible that a single microchip containing an entire medical history and biological sample results is all it will take to analyze and determine a person’s overall health. Currently, it takes an entire lab operating in several different capacities to produce those same results.

Even if nanotechnology never goes that far and the all-encompassing biological microchip never comes to fruition, the trend toward more compact— and more efficient—best practices is firmly under way.

It is already possible, for example, to broadcast test results in mere seconds across the globe through “cloud” technology in which information is stored virtually, not within the bricks and mortar of a traditional lab.

No, this particular column is not about the science labs of the future; it is about understanding that how they might look one day is key to understanding another critical consequence of such rapidly evolving technology.

Nanotechnology and other innovations will make it even easier for scientists to be mobile, working wherever they choose. Many of them already do, following the general trend of employers starting to recognize that employees don’t necessarily have to spend their workday in a particular physical location in order to be productive. Working an eighthour day within a traditional time frame also is no longer a prerequisite to employment, since virtual work spaces where information is easily accessible make it just as convenient to work in the middle of the night—or whatever time is convenient for the employee.

Lab managers of tomorrow, as well as today, must therefore learn how to foster and maintain the personal fulfillment of their employees outside of work, as new technologies are making it extremely easy to work practically anywhere and anytime. Although there have always been issues through the years regarding how to balance your professional life with your personal one, scientific lab work understandably encompassed a pretty typical day before the introduction of game-changing innovations in the industry. The business of running a lab was time dependent, with the manual nature of experiments and other processes dictating that scientists needed to be in certain places at certain times. You always knew that if an experiment started in the morning, chances were good you’d need to be there in the afternoon.

As history has shown, suppliers developed automated instruments, revolutionizing lab work so significantly that practically every process now is done with automation. You can start an experiment and walk away. You can get results through the interconnectivity of the Internet, which enables scientists to dial in from anywhere in the world to see the resolution of their work.

All these advances are much more beneficial to the customer—results are fast and accurate—but it is already causing strains on the work/ life balance, because now there is so much more available time to introduce a new level of workload and constantly push for innovation. The technology of the future will only make this dilemma more pronounced.

Lab managers must ultimately recognize how the world of work has changed. Because scientific professionals have so many more choices for employment, those who manage them must deliberately build plans for enabling their staff to have every opportunity for a fair work/life balance reflective of the virtual nature of their workplace as well as their home.

Adaptability is the most crucial component. No employee can attain personal fulfillment outside work without being able to adapt to the rapidly changing technologies of the scientific world. Lab managers can facilitate this process by recognizing the new mobility of today’s scientific professionals and recruiting specifically for the skill sets required to work in a particular environment. This can often be done by harnessing the power of a contingent labor workforce plan, a strong trend in the scientific industry that allows labs to employ the most competent professionals only when they are needed for a particular job or project.

Lab managers must also learn how to prepare their employees for the culture of a particular lab and develop an onboarding process that will allow them to flourish, no matter what the requirements, location, or time element.

Preparing a lab’s workforce in such a way that they are able to optimally handle the technological changes that are coming down the pipeline will, in the end, ensure happy employees. The employees may ultimately become more committed to their work if they know they have a life outside of it, too.

Alan Edwards is senior director and product leader of Kelly Services® Americas Products Group—Science. Kelly Services, Inc., a leader in providing workforce solutions, is headquartered in Troy, Michigan. For more information, visit kellyservices. com. Alan can also be followed on LinkedIn (