The concept of innovation is multifaceted. At its simplest, it can mean a new idea, method, or device; in the broader sense, innovation can be the outcome of people collaborating to evolve and modernize their workplace. STEM fields are often considered by the public to be at the forefront of innovation, with scientists and engineers working toward new, exciting, and life-changing discoveries. But what does innovation mean for those working in and around the lab and how are organizations inspiring their teams to develop innovative ideas? The Lab Manager team asked our readers what innovation looks like to them on an individual level, at the workplace, and on a broader level.
Our survey participants span a diverse range of ages, with the majority falling between 45- to 64-years-old. Unsurprisingly, many survey respondents work as lab managers (53 percent), though other job titles included research scientist, consultant, principal investigator, and technician, among others. The most represented workplace for this survey was hospitals/medical centers and the most common industry was clinical diagnostics. However, our readers come from a wide range of different jobs across academia, industry, and government labs.
Perceptions of innovation
Innovations within the lab and broader industry are incredibly important to our readers. They place high value on the presence of innovations in their day-to-day workplace (67 percent saying they value innovation within their workplace at the highest rating offered) and similar importance on the ability of the organization to be innovative on a larger scale.
To reach readers’ desired levels of innovation at both the micro- and macro-level, some work needs to be done to bridge the gap between what our readers expect versus what they experience. Although three-quarters of respondents consider innovation to be extremely valuable and important, most view their workplace and/or organization as only being somewhat innovative. Additionally, most readers feel like innovation is promoted and encouraged by their workplace, leaving lots of room for the link between performance and innovation to be strengthened. However, like anything else in the workplace, innovation can be risky. When it comes to innovation, our readers are most worried about the financial and operational risks, which include the possibility of failing quality standards and the wasted time and resources if an idea doesn’t pan out.
Luckily, it looks like closing the gap between expected and experienced innovation is possible, with almost all respondents feeling like their workplace and/or organization is open and willing to change when it comes to innovative technologies and workflows. There is also not one specific area where readers think innovation is especially lacking within their organizations and they would like to see an increase at all levels of staff, management, and other stakeholders. Innovation being valued across whole organizations opens an exciting space for lab managers to promote and encourage an innovative culture within their lab, where no idea is a bad idea and staff feel comfortable to express their thoughts, concerns, and pain points. To emphasize the importance of establishing an innovative work culture, one survey participant says, “Great ideas can come from anyone, from undergraduate students to seasoned alumni. Diversity within the team also provides a broader viewpoint from which to problem-solve.”
One of the most common ways workplaces and organizations can embrace innovation is through the adoption of new technologies. Innovative technology in the workplace is so crucial to our readers that not a single respondent considers its adoption not important at all.
Approximately 80 percent of respondents felt their organization was very willing or somewhat willing to adopt innovative new technologies and workflows. How can lab managers use this information to help create more innovation in the workplace? For just over half of our readers, feedback from both team members and members of leadership drive innovation within their organization, proving that our readers have a voice and play an important role in making their workplace a more innovative space. Using this voice, lab managers can make tangible moves toward a more innovative lab. For example, they can build a business case for the adoption of new tools and workflows and advocate to upper management that these technologies could lead to more efficient processes, and, ultimately, enable innovative work.
Once the lab manager has been given approval to invest in a new tool or technology, they can communicate the benefits of adopting it to their team. Change can be difficult, even if it is good change, so it’s important for lab managers to set up a strategy to successfully implement the new tool or workflow. As one survey participant explains, “Innovation is change. People tend to resist change. But the risk can lead to rewards that benefit everyone.”
The top three risks of adopting new technologies, according to our readers, are cost, QA/QC, and time. Supply and demand issues also pose a significant risk and limit organizations’ access to new technology in the first place.
Science is a field that is constantly changing and evolving, and those of us who work in the field have experienced at least one major innovation that has changed the way we work. For readers of Lab Manager, automation and digital lab technologies have made the biggest impact in their workflows. One of our readers writes that “the introduction of automation in our laboratory has really brought a lot of changes in terms of quality and service. [It’s enhanced our] accuracy, precision, turnaround time, and even sample management.”
With the impact of COVID-19, innovations in lab safety and remote work have increased and have changed the way we do our jobs and collaborate with our teammates. Another respondent notes, “Introducing technologies for remote or asynchronous work ensures an easy, continuous, and controlled workflow from remote places.”
We also asked our readers to share their thoughts on some specific areas that are at the forefront of innovative technologies today. When it comes to “green” technology, respondents considered all innovations as having a significant positive impact, with reduced waste output slightly edging out the others. For lab design innovation, readers overwhelmingly love flexible and open spaces, and for remote work, communication tools and automation made the biggest impact.
Whether we see innovations in funding, learning, or design, it’ll be exciting to see what new technologies alter our working world as we continue to evolve and adapt.