Reduced Time Burden on Scientists, Fewer Distractions and Fewer Obstacles to Work Translate into Higher Productivity and Happier Staff
“See to Solve helps us optimize the intent of an open, collaborative lab environment because it minimizes the downside. Before, problems arose in our ‘smart working’ spaces because nobody has their own equipment, nobody has their own desk, nobody has their own bench, and management and support services are all over the place. Reporting issues was burdensome to staff who didn’t necessarily feel like they owned the reporting responsibility and didn’t always know who to call. See to Solve Alert gives our scientists an easy tool to better manage problems and more quickly solve them. Now, it just takes 3 clicks to report any issue and reporting issues is everyone’s responsibility. It’s taken a huge burden off the shoulders of our lab area supervisors.”— Marc Holbert, Director of Protein & Cellular Sciences, GSK US
GSK Embraces ‘Smart Offices’ and ‘Smart Labs’ as the Future of Work
GSK is a science-led global healthcare company with 90,000 global employees and three global businesses that research, develop and manufacture innovative pharmaceutical medicines, vaccines and consumer healthcare products. In the US, GSK has 15,000 employees across all 50 states, as well as 9 manufacturing facilities and multiple R&D centers.
As an organization, GSK has committed to building a ‘smart working’ environment for employees working in both office and lab environments. A ‘smart office’ is a hi-tech workplace that uses analytics and connected technology to help people work more efficiently and productively. In ‘smart offices,’ analytics are used to understand how the environment can best serve its people and inform better working processes. At GSK, the ‘smart working’ concept includes open work areas and multi-disciplinary shared labs designed to foster enhanced interaction and collaboration. This opportunity for staff to engage and collaborate in new, creative ways is a primary objective in GSK’s ‘smart working’ initiative.
GSK’s approach is backed up by research showing that ‘smart office’ environments that include shared work space spark creativity, enable greater collaboration and lead to faster and more efficient decision-making capabilities. In these environments, staff members typically have freedom to choose where they work any given day, without regard to hierarchy on an org chart or departmental affiliation. Space is designed for employees to work productively individually or in small groups, with digital services supporting on-site, remote or hybrid work.
Staff in scientific lab environments similarly benefit from ‘smart lab’ designs that enable flexible access to lab facilities and equipment and greater collaboration among scientists. In fact, with lab space often at a premium, adaptable lab design is becoming a prerequisite for supporting multi-disciplinary scientific teams. Importantly, while there is a clear benefit in terms of optimizing lab space and equipment, an even greater benefit often comes from new, unplanned collaboration among scientists, as shown in a study conducted by the University of Michigan.
At the center of GSK’s transition to ‘smart working’ in the US are their business and scientific teams in the Philadelphia area. “We made the decision several years ago to transition to the ‘smart working’ concept,” explains Michele Weiss, Associate Director of GSK’s Protein and Cellular Sciences Group. “Several of our buildings were pretty much gutted and re-designed completely as ‘smart’ workspaces. This was a big change for our scientists. We used to have siloed individual work situations where each individual group would have their own small lab and work area in which they would operate. Now, we share a floor with multiple departments and it’s become a highly collaborative environment. No-one really owns their own pieces of equipment anymore – it’s all general use, which really helps teams who used to be in small labs and might not even have known about a piece of equipment that could make their job a lot easier.” The redesign involved centralizing and consolidating lab as well as office space, including relocating teams from multiple buildings into the newly renovated ‘smart’ workspaces. “We got rid of all our offices,” Michele explains. “Up to the top of the company, no-one has an office anymore. Office space is completely open.You come in, set up your laptop and you could be sitting next to anyone, from a department head to a colleague from a totally different group, who you might never have known before, but who could be very helpful to you. The whole idea is to be highly collaborative.”
‘Smart Working’ Redesign Puts New Burden on Scientists
While the new flexibility and shared access to equipment provided many benefits, it also introduced new challenges. “We now have a multidisciplinary environment with a completely matrixed management system,” says Marc Holbert, Director of the Protein and Cellular Sciences Group. “The redesign did spur connection, stimulated creativity, and brought efficiency. But then, because no-one has their own space, these small problems build up and people get irritated. You start to lose that sense of collaboration that was at the heart of why we did this in the first place.”
Within the building, there are three different groups involved in managing the space. Facilities are managed through CRBE, Perk and Elmer provide lab support services, and then there are the GSK scientists. “While we are very open and collaborative on our floor, we are very process-driven across the lab area,” says Michele. “So to make things run smoothly, each section of the lab has a lab area supervisor. These are scientists who staff members can go to if they are having a problem or issue in that area of the lab.”
The problem with this approach was two-fold. First and foremost, it created undue burden on the lab area supervisors. “These are scientists,” says Michele, “so it’s not like these are people hired specifically for this role. They are devoting their time because they want to be leaders and they kindly agree to do it, but we were realizing that the amount of time they were devoting to following up issues was a heavier burden than we were comfortable with.” The structure was helpful to staff members who wanted to report an issue, but from there, following up an issue involved a cumbersome process of back and forth in emails, gathering information and getting it to the right person or group who could enter a ticket or resolve the issue.
The second problem with the approach was that issues still were not getting reported as quickly as the team would have liked because staff members didn’t always take the time to report issues. Even reporting it to the lab area supervisor was not always quick and easy. “You might have five scientists walk up to a particular piece of equipment, find it not working, decide they didn’t have time to deal with it, and go find another piece of equipment they could use instead,” says Michele. As a result, problems lingered and often, in the end, it was the lab area supervisor who would eventually discover the issue on their own and take on the reporting and follow up, further compounding the burden on their time. Meanwhile, office area issues similarly were slow in getting reported for the same reasons. Staff members didn’t always know who to go to and the process of reporting was cumbersome.
GSK Adopts See to Solve Alert for Easier Problem Reporting in ‘Smart Working’ Lab and Office Space
GSK began implementing See to Solve in the Protein and Cellular Sciences ‘smart working’ space in early 2021. They had learned about See to Solve from colleagues in other areas of GSK who had been using the system since 2018. First and foremost, they wanted to reduce the reporting burden on the scientists who were their lab area supervisors. A second important goal was improving response and resolution times for reported issues to keep things running smoothly and optimally serve staff in the ‘smart working’ areas. A third objective was to better track problems and collect data that could help them surface repeat issues, conduct root cause analysis and make business cases for improvements and capital investments.
Since implementing the See to Solve system went hand-in-hand with supporting its ‘smart working’ redesign, GSK used architectural maps, which included equipment locations, to pre-configure the See to Solve system. Over 400 pieces of equipment were mapped in the Protein and Cellular Science labs for the initial implementation. Each piece of equipment was labeled with a unique QR code and equipment identification number. Reporting an issue became as easy as scanning the QR code with the See to Solve smart phone app, selecting a problem type and clicking submit. Alternative methods of easy, fast reporting were also part of the system design, including interactive floor maps where a user can simply click a location on the map to identify a problem location. On the back end, issues are routed to designated ‘responders’ based on a defined set of problem types. The person reporting the problem has no need to worry about whom to alert, how to describe the issue or how to explain where the issue is occurring.
Once the system was configured, it was introduced first to the lab area supervisors, then rolled out to staff. Since the primary goal was relieving the burden on the lab area supervisors, it was important to get them comfortable with the system first and gain their support in rolling it out to all staff. “We really wanted those change managers on board,” says Michele. “To ensure that, we held several training and feedback sessions and gave them plenty of time to get comfortable with the system.”
Problem Reporting Becomes Everybody’s Responsibility with 60% Adoption, Reduced Burden on Scientists and Dramatically Improved Response Times
One year after introducing See to Solve, adoption is strong. Usage metrics show that 60% of staff have used the system to report issues. “We were really amazed to see that metric,” says Michele. “Before, issues were being reported by the same small group of people. We wanted to make ‘problem reporting’ everybody’s responsibility, but not a heavy responsibility, and I think we’ve really accomplished that.”
With staff adoption strong, the burden on the scientists who are the lab area supervisors has been considerably lessened. Problems don’t need to go through them and when they do get involved, reporting is as quick and easy for them as it is for all staff. “Those lab area supervisors are now the biggest proponents of the system,” Michele says. According to a recent feedback survey, scientists overall had a 60% favorable rating on how the system was working for them. “Qualitative feedback tells us that See to Solve makes their lives easier and they’re happy with it,” adds Marc.
Response time has also dramatically improved. Ease of reporting is one major contributing factor to this. “In the past,” says Marc, “if a monitor was broken at a desk, they would just go to a different desk. Now at least it gets reported and fixed. That’s a win.”
Efficient routing of problem notifications is another factor in response time improvement. For certain kinds of equipment, See to Solve Alert routes email notifications to local lab instrument staff, as well as to the lab concierge. “Sometimes they can run upstairs real quick and let the concierge know right away, on the same email thread, that they were able to fix the problem,” says Michele. “In the lab, instrumentation is down for less time,” says Marc. ”You no longer have to go to multiple people either. An individual scientist can just scan the QR code and the problem gets solved.”
As far as gathering data to help in business planning or in improvement efforts, the team has been analyzing data from the first year’s use and creating dashboards. They are looking at how people are reporting problems and from what kinds of devices, with an eye toward further improving reporting ease, such as by providing iPads in the lab. “Going beyond this is aspirational,” says Marc. “We know with our Covid adaptations, we’ve had fewer people in both office areas and labs. But we just lifted occupancy restrictions and we’ll be watching our data closely as we ramp up space usage to see if we see patterns we can address.”
Meanwhile, new use cases have emerged already. “It’s an iterative process,” says Michele. “For example, we recently started using See to Solve for ‘Near Miss’ reporting. We’ve added problem types to See to Solve Alert for ‘Near Miss’ incidents, so it takes hardly any time at all now for scientists to report a Near Miss.” Notifications about Near Misses go to the lab concierge who then makes sure they get entered into GSK’s Environmental Health and Safety reporting system. “It’s been great working with the See to Solve team as we’ve thought of new ways we want to use the system. They’ve been extremely helpful in supporting us in what we want to achieve.”
The future of work is flexible. At GSK, flexible work centers around multi-disciplinary ‘smart offices’ and ‘smart labs,.’. “What See to Solve does for us is operationalize some of these flexible ways of working”, says Marc. “It’s proving its value exactly as I expected.”