With Autumn so close at hand and people returning from vacation, many projects are already planning their ramp-up. If you’re planning to have your LIMS, ELN or LES work done, remotely, you need to consider the tools that will help you with this and how best to use them. This post is focused on LIMS remote work tools.
Leading Up to This Post
A few things led me to write this post. First of all, there are many people thinking about restarting their work in a few weeks when we get into the post-Labor-Day (here in the USA) period. As such, there’s a lot of activity of people looking for resources.
Some of the potential customers I speak with ask whether remote work is their best choice. They also ask how to make it work, and a variety of related topics. That spurred me to write a post giving five remote resource tips.
But these discussions keep popping-up. In addition, I then ended up contributing to an article compiling “Virtual Communication: An In-Depth Guide on Tips & Tools” for Glasscubes (a group collaboration tool).
Actually, I should write more about communications, too. That’s another hot discussion topic, right now, but I’ll leave that, for another day.
Picking LIMS Remote Work Tools
The first task is to identify all remote communication and identify the scenarios in which that work will happen.
Let’s just take a moment to admit you might already be doing some of this. It’s possible that you already have this in-place and working effectively (i.e., work gets done within the schedule and budget and works in the expected manner). In that case, you can probably put a note to that effect next to it.
But let’s suppose that things aren’t quite working as you need them to. Or let’s suppose that you’re getting into a new area. In either case, you need to spend time thinking about what you actually need to accomplish, then identify what tools will help you with that.
Always look, first, to your internal tools. If your company already has tools for what you need, it often costs less to start with those. You can usually get support from your company if you need it. There are lots of reasons to first look at these.
However, here are the two most common scenarios I run across in my work. Let’s talk about them in more detail.
LIMS Remote Work Tools: Scenario # 1
One reason customers call me is that they just need some work accomplished. Usually, they have a new block of work they need added to their LIMS, ELN or LES. In that case, they want me to figure out how to do it and just get the entire block of work done for them. Other times, they need a specific resource to fill a gap. For example, if they they lost their LabWare LIMS / ELN System Admin and they need someone to fill-in. You can read more about why GeoMetrick Enterprises is a good choice for that at LabWare LIMS: We’re the Experts.
When I’m working to build a new solution block to add to the LIMS, I’m almost always going to be working with a business team to find out what they need. Then, I’ll be presenting it to them to see if we’ve missed anything or whether I’ve properly identified their workflow.
In the second case, I still have to work with another person. This person will give me details on bugs or system changes to work through. In addition, I’ll still have to present my findings and/or solutions to someone.
The Minimum Tools Needed for Scenario # 1
At the minimum, we use these types of LIMS remote work tools and for these purposes:
- A place to “meet” and discuss issues. Someone has to tell me what they need. Initially and at various intervals, e-mail isn’t a bad place to share technical or basic details. It’s not the place to keep it. However, it’s a place where people can read more complex items, and ask and answer questions. True discussions need to take place with a phone call. If material or screens are being shared, the tool used should be an on-line meeting tool.
- Document decisions and issues for the purposes of discussion and refinement. We always need to get to “buy-in” and “sign-off” and that requires putting all decisions and details in one place. Whether the people involved think they’ve worked everything through with e-mail, a chat tool, or a discussion tool, everything needs to be represented in one place. It’s still most common to put them all into a single document or series of documents with various purposes (e.g., requirements as one document, design as a different document), then having people actually sign them (either physical signatures or electronic signatures) or, in some cases, having team member just e-mail “I accept” works.
- Presentations. In either of these cases, there has to be some presentation at some point. Eventually, one side has to show issues or solutions to one or more other people. These days, you have to have some type of on-line presentation tool. Whether it’s sophisticated and allows options such as recording, or is just a basic screen and voice tool, you have to pick something that meets your needs and budget.
LIMS Remote Work Tools: Scenario # 2
The other scenario is that customers have a large project and they need resources that will work as a large team, where some or all of the team is working remotely. In that scenario, my company works as a small part of a larger team.
Consider that all the LIMS remote work tools in Scenario # 1 apply because the same topics apply. In addition, team members have to be able to contact each other much more frequently.
In these situations, a chat tool is handy to have. That way, if a team member has a question or issue that could and should be immediately handled, they can shoot that off to another team member or to the entire team, if appropriate.
In addition, team collaboration tools come in-handy. Giving team members an entire suite of tools to use helps them be productive and to keep the information all handled by one tool, as much as possible.
LIMS Remote Work Tool Training
Just as you do with your LIMS, ELN Or LES, you need to train the people you’re working with on the tools to use.
When you’re the customer and you’re working with me to sit in as your interim LabWare LIMS System Admin, it’s usually as easy as the two of us just coming to a handshake agreement on what methods work best for the two of us. Then, if it really doesn’t work that well, one of us just says so and we change it. That’s training at its simplest.
But when you begin working with more people than that, you need to at least sketch-out how the tools are best used. Then, present that to the team. It’s fine if you discuss it with the team if you’re not certain how to start. You do need to bring up the topic of how to refine this during occasional team meetings.
However, if the tool is complex and if it’s new to the team, you might want to do a training session on the pieces of the tool you’ll use. This training should be both on the features you want the team to use but also in what situations to use these features.
PICK UP THE PHONE!
I think we’ve all been in this situation where we’re e-mailing or chatting and starting to realize there’s some miscommunication going on and not being resolved with the communication tool we’re using.
At that point, someone hopefully wakes up and says, “Hey, this isn’t working. Let’s have a phone call (or on-line meeting).” In many cases, teams frequently do this, make it brief, then continue with their work after having resolved the issue.
Without someone realizing it, though, we spin our wheels too long with an ineffective communication method.
This is where a little training helps us stay aware that we need to be prepared to switch communication methods.
Share Your Tools
If you would like to share how you best use the tools on your project and want to illuminate types of tools or brands of tools, feel free to do that in the comments. As usual, if you mention any brands of tools, you have to give specific examples. It can’t be a sales pitch.