In 2021, we shared our whole-hearted agreement with the 2020 Forbes Article describing agility as the new superpower. Agility certainly allowed ApconiX to thrive and grow during the pandemic by focusing on the science and on people rather than on any pre-existing plans or process, allowing our experts to guide projects to the best outcome.
So, as we all return to ‘normality’, will we go back to our pre-pandemic ways of working?
I think not. Our agility has clearly opened up new opportunities for us to expand our global team, knowing that remote working is the new normal rather than a compromise.
We now have scientists based in Australia, Canada, the USA, Switzerland and Sweden, as well as at various locations in the UK. This enables us to access the best talent and experience, and our global footprint means there is always an ApconiX scientist hard at work somewhere in the world moving a project forward. It’s such a delight to open my inbox first thing in the morning and find that a draft or a project has been completed when I was sleeping!
Despite this, there is still very much a place for the office in our post-pandemic work culture. It’s interesting to note that when members of the ApconiX team have happened to be face-to-face in the office or at conferences, great ideas emerge at perhaps a faster pace compared with chatting via online platforms. Experiencing the day-to-day culture of a busy company and picking up learning ‘by osmosis’ from more experienced toxicologists over lunch or tea* also gives early career scientists a significant advantage as they navigate their careers. Writing in the April 30th 2022 New Scientist, Annalee Newitz notes the concept of ‘distance bias’ where some managers are reported to place more value on work done by people in close proximity to them. ‘’Remote workers are out of sight, out of mind. Even if they pop up on Zoom, their work will be constantly devalued as time goes on,” suggests Annalee.
This is of course an important point in workplace planning so our emphasis at ApconiX is on providing all the team the opportunity to work in “the office” to enhance creativity, share experiences more informally and to promote social contact. To reflect this, we are shortly moving into larger lab and office premises at Alderley Park to ensure everyone has a home at the office as well as at their home desk. This way, we can provide the flexibility and support that allows all the team to be equally valued wherever and whenever they are working.
So back to agility and what we have learned. Clearly, anyone with a lab-based role needs to be ‘in work’ as often as the lab work requires it; but beyond that, these individuals and the business benefit from flexibility in working practices just as much as anyone else. We have noted that flexible lab shifts developed for social distancing may also suit individuals and can contribute to greater productivity in the long term.
Another carry-forward message is that presentism is a thing of the past and only seems to persist in companies that are insecure about the commitment of their scientists. Flexible working including more time at the home desk is clearly with us for the long term. However, this positive step needs to be balanced with an appreciation of the key role that human contact gained from spending time in the office plays in everything from company innovation through to our career progression and our mental health.
* ApconiX are generally tea drinkers, although other hot beverages are accepted.