Lab managers are often so consumed with external communication (e.g., business development, reporting to sponsors) that communicating internally may be overlooked. It is important to stay in touch with the whole team—from lab technician to senior scientist—to ensure that everyone is working toward a shared vision and common goals. Additionally, open communication fosters a welcoming environment where team members feel respected and valued, leading to the sharing of new ideas that drive innovation and the collection of information for content needs.
Developing a culture of open communication within an organization begins with the onboarding process. The proper onboarding of new hires results in better prepared employees who are more quickly productive and, overall, more satisfied. Employees prefer to have a clear path to success, which includes discussing information about roles and responsibilities (e.g., communications expectations) from the start.
The prevalence of multi-institutional collaborations in science and industry is increasing due to factors such as outsourcing R&D capabilities and funding mechanisms, resulting in many benefits to the parties involved. However, more communication issues are introduced with remote teams, including the increased costs and time to communicate, lack of virtual tools that effectively simulate in-person interactions, and an overall disconnect.
Many of these challenges can be addressed with a well-designed communications plan that provides best practices (e.g., email etiquette, meeting rules) and outlines communications resources, along with access to training. While the onboarding process at collaborators’ institutions may be beyond your direct control, a welcome packet can be developed and distributed to every team member with communications guidelines and other project-specific information that connects them with the resources required to perform optimally.
It is crucial to plan ahead for the onboarding of new hires. A well-structured onboarding program includes a carefully crafted training schedule with regular touch points and assessments, and is a competency-based curriculum that can be tailored to individual needs. A solid organizational structure will facilitate management of virtual teams and ensure proper onboarding of personnel at remote locations. For example, it is important to designate employees at each site whom you can rely on for specific tasks (e.g., training) and establish a regular communications schedule with them. Additionally, the appropriate support services (e.g., IT, facilities management) must be in place so that employees have continuous access to the tools and systems needed to work efficiently and safely.
While communications are key to a fully functioning team, the wrong communication style can easily destroy team dynamics and quickly disengage new employees. In most cases, micromanaging (i.e., exerting control over all aspects of a project) is unnecessary and counterproductive, especially for remote teams where communications may already be in excess. A micromanager inadvertently signals to employees that they are not to be trusted and also stifles creativity. Instead, managers must learn to trust first and delegate responsibilities to the most appropriately skilled team member—after all, the recruiting and onboarding process should be designed to identify and hire the best people.
Lab managers must value the significant role of open communications in effectively onboarding and managing teams. This includes setting clear guidelines and expectations on how and when to communicate and remaining flexible in the communication methods used, especially with virtual team members.
Be sure to attend Donna Kridelbaugh’s Lab Manager Academy webinar, “Virtual Onboarding” on April 6, or afterward at www.labmanager.com/virtualonboarding to watch the archived video.