Design for innovation: the changing life science workplace

As all eyes look to the life science industry to find a silver bullet solution to end the pandemic, there is more pressure than ever to create collaborative workspaces for researchers in the sector. A new report by Genentech explores future scenarios

The life science workplace today finds itself at the epicentre of an increasingly competitive global landscape in which companies and the research scientists they employ are under pressure to produce ground-breaking research and innovative solutions for the market. This pressure has become even more extreme as the world looks towards the life science sector to find solutions for the global Covid-19 pandemic.

A new report produced by global biotech company Genentech, part of the Roche group, examines the changing parameters of design for the corporate life science workplace and how researchers in the industry can be better supported in the future.

Flexible, agile and dynamic

The report, entitled The Changing Life Science Workplace and produced in partnership with WORKTECH Academy, looks at how large bioscience companies can become more flexible, agile and dynamic to address future challenges. It draws on a mix of academic literature, practice studies and interviews with workplace experts from North America, Singapore, China, UK and Europe.

‘Big pharma once relied on an established reputation to attract talent, now it must re-evaluate the workplace …’

Where large pharmaceutical companies once relied on an established reputation to attract talent, they are now forced to re-evaluate their workplace offering – in competition with tech companies and prominent players in other industries. As the pace of the sector accelerates, research and development needs to create more efficient methods and faster results – this will depend on the quality of the environment researchers are working in and the equipment available to them.

People, place and technology

Large organisations based on a science campus can sometimes struggle with cross-disciplinary collaboration – this is a sacrifice that many life science companies can  afford to make. The report outlines a holistic approach to evaluating the current life science workplace by looking across lab and general workspaces and addressing the needs of researchers and other staff members through the lens of people, place and technology.

It highlights current practice and projects in the life science workplace to help capture a fast-moving picture of innovation. These trends range from flexible workspaces to smart tools, culture shifts and a more collaborative academic-corporate approach.

Future scenarios

Looking to the future, the Genentech report describes three opportunities for change in the life science workplace via three scenarios: blended, partnered and automated approach. These approaches are not intended to be mutually exclusive and can be integrated.

The blended approach outlines a scenario in which general office, lab space, and virtual space becomes blended within the life science workplace. This approach aims to improve the permeability between different disciplines to encourage more inter-company collaboration. This means that workplace will need to be designed with both physical and virtual connectivity in mind.

The partnered approach is a scenario in which life science companies are integrators, with many front-end and back-end innovation activities outsourced. This scenario aims to address the pressure for innovation and risk many life science companies cannot afford to shoulder by themselves.

‘Lab space shifts to more attractive city locations in pop-up or other flexible formats…’

In this scenario, life science companies to work more closely with external collaborators to develop more early-stage discovery research. Office workspace itself is outsourced to contemporary coworking providers and lab space similarly shifts to more attractive city locations in pop-up or other flexible formats. The offer to new talent is unambiguous and attractive, recognizing that many graduates will seek to start their careers in smart start-ups or in-vogue tech firms before looking at big pharma.

The final scenario is automated, an approach where AI and machine learning occupy lab space and ask new questions about the co-existence of robots and people. This scenario has been significantly accelerated during the pandemic as many companies have looked to automation to continue working where employees cannot physically come to the lab.

This approach looks at AI and machine learning occupying lab space to do routine tasks, while allowing researchers to spend more time focusing on more complex and innovative experiments which require human ingenuity.

While the research for the report was conducted pre-Covid-19, the report tackles highly relevant themes and issues for a post-pandemic era. As the spotlight shines on the life science industry to find a vaccine for Covid-19, the workspace is the first building block in driving innovation.

Read the full Genentech report, ‘The Changing Life Science Workplace: Designing to Accelerate Science’, here
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