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Keys for Effective Lab Planning and Design

Early engagement, expertise, and end users are vital to effective lab planning

RJ Panzo

RJ Panzo is senior vice president, life sciences, at Cresa. RJ leverages over 20 years of lab experience to provide industry-specific planning and data-driven strategies to emerging and established life...

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Rachel Stilling

Rachel Stilling, advisor, lab planning & operations at Cresa, provides data analysis and end-user insights for life sciences clients to carry out effective lab programming, utilization, and assessment exercises. Before...

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As life sciences organizations continue to dominate Greater Boston real estate, scientists and lab workers have quickly learned that not all workspaces are created equal. Scientific labs and R&D spaces require custom design elements and specific building capabilities to operate efficiently. Conceptualizing lab space in the same manner as office space can lead to suboptimal workflow, ultimately hindering a team’s scientific productivity.

To make the most of your lab space and maximize efficiency, expertise is essential. Organizations should assemble a team that offers bench experience, operational expertise, and commercial real estate knowledge to ensure design decisions are viable from all perspectives. With the right team in place, you’ll have a strong foundation to carry out a thoughtful, holistic, and innovative process. Below, we’ve rounded up some of our most valuable recommendations and proven best practices for streamlined and effective lab planning that optimizes lab space.

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Early engagement is key

Bringing in the right people at the right time will give your facilities and operations team a major advantage in the real estate planning process. Many consequential decisions are made very early on, and input from a dedicated lab planner can ensure all decisions are positioning the labs and scientists for optimal workflow. To get the most out of your meetings, come prepared. Bring any data you have to the table—headcount projections, equipment lists, pain points, unique requirements, etc. This will help the project team gain a comprehensive understanding of your current lab space and give you a leg up in the planning process. 

Many operational obstacles can be retroactively addressed with the right experience and creative thinking.

Common offenders

Lab planning and space optimization entails working with companies’ lab and facilities leaders to study and enhance every aspect of the work process. While each organization is unique, there are a handful of lab elements that consistently offer room for improvement.  Some common areas of improvement include bench practices, storage solutions, equipment management, and end user engagement.

Change management

Of course, lab design is only as good as the implementation strategy. A thorough communication and training campaign can help educate staff on new policies and change user behaviors to make the best use of the new lab space. Unsurprisingly, we find that when everyone in the lab is excited and on board with a design solution, it’s much easier to put it into practice. For that reason, you should aim to develop solutions that benefit everyone, and to engage end users in the process so that they feel a sense of ownership of the end result. 

Course corrections

Inevitably, some organizations end up in lab spaces that are not optimal for their work. Operational inefficiencies often arise when lab end users are not involved in the space planning process or when labs are designed in buildings originally constructed for office use. Many operational obstacles can be retroactively addressed with the right experience and creative thinking.

While there is no hard and fast rule around lab planning, these guidelines can help facilitate conversations and decisions that best serve your company. The main pillars of early team assembly, engaging users with deep lab experience, and frequent communication throughout the process are a solid foundation for a successful lab planning process.