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Four Ways Lab Design Can Boost Productivity

Thoughtful lab design and management can accelerate productivity and boost staff morale and well-being

Roger Humphrey, life sciences division president, JLL

As the global leader of JLL's life sciences practice, Roger Humphrey guides a team of professionals developing customized outsourcing solutions across the entire real estate and facilities management lifecycle. A real estate industry leader for more than 30 years, Humphrey previously was executive director, global real estate and IFM governance for Merck & Co, building and staffing its global real estate services department for a 100 million-square-feet portfolio spanning 750 sites in 80 countries. 


During the recent global health crisis, the life sciences industry has proved its ability to rapidly deliver lifesaving treatments. While laboratory productivity is increasing, the road from breakthrough discovery to patient care is still lengthy and costly—and researchers are under growing pressure to speed up their findings. Concurrently, COVID-19 infection spikes continue to strain clinical testing labs. 

The good news is that the way in which labs are designed and managed can accelerate productivity and ease some of the burdens of an in-demand industry. Life sciences research and development (R&D) spending is expected to grow by $34 billion by 2024, according to EvaluatePharma data. In 2020, 1,052 therapeutics targets were in the pre-clinical stage, up 52 percent in just five years. In Massachusetts alone, 215 therapies are en route to commercialization. Concurrently, the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic is spurring continued demand for R&D and testing services. 

While lab professionals can only work so many hours in a day, thoughtful lab design and management can accelerate productivity—and boost morale and well-being along the way. The following are four ways your facilities can raise the bar for productivity.  

1. Make room for well-being features 

Numerous studies have proven the benefits of natural light, outdoor views, plants, and high-quality indoor air on employee well-being, mood, cognitive function, and productivity. Leading life sciences and health care organizations have recognized these advantages, along with the fact that today’s in-demand researchers and technicians dislike yesteryear’s windowless and cramped environments. 

With the pandemic top of mind, a focus on health and well-being in the lab is even more important. Lab personnel often spend long, intense hours on high-pressure, mission-critical work, and lab features that promote relaxation and calm can help ease the stress. Plentiful windows, easy access to outdoor space and views, or even something as simple as a few indoor plants—can provide instant mental getaways and feed the innate human hunger to connect with nature.   

2. Design for flexibility

Research priorities can shift quickly. Clinical lab technologies can change, too. New diagnostic approaches, such as increased automation, molecular diagnostics, genetics and digital pathology, are poised to transform diagnostic practices.   

Even a relatively new lab facility can quickly become obsolete. To keep your facilities from becoming functionally obsolete, adopt flexible design strategies that anticipate change and support agile operations.  

Today, wireless technology and sophisticated building materials enable lab designers to build for flexibility from the start with features like movable workstations and plug-and-play equipment. Space can be reconfigured to provide unassigned workstations and labs on lower floors easily accessed during off hours. 

For example, retractable electrical coils installed on the ceiling can replace traditional wall-mounted electrical cords and allow for equipment to be moved around the space instead of placed against a wall. The same principle applies to any technical infrastructure piece: choose accessible and changeable fixtures, like a facade with multiple access points over a permanent wall or ceiling. Thick floor slabs in corridors will allow for heavy equipment—such as a high-throughput screening device—to be moved multiple times without damaging the floor. 

3. Provide the right space for the right work

Lab work is increasingly multidisciplinary and collaborative and may involve external collaborators too, so traditional benches or individual workspaces should be augmented with group spaces. Inspiring, well-lit spaces with videoconferencing capabilities, whiteboards, and open seating can foster new ideas and allow space for discussions with colleagues near and far. Rather than segregating computational scientists in distant office space, keeping wet and dry labs together can encourage more collaboration.   

Collaboration spaces also can serve as social spaces. Other options include on-site cafeterias, cafes, huddle booths, informal lounge spaces, or any other communal area that increases social interactions and impromptu meetings.  

Of course, not all lab work is collaborative. In addition to group spaces, quiet rooms are important too. A library or dedicated quiet spaces will allow deeper thinking on challenging issues. 

4. Partner for productivity

In a pressured environment, remaining laser-focused on the core work can be undermined when facilities issues become a distraction. Some lab organizations are enlisting facility management (FM) services or health care expertise to fuel productivity by removing facilities distractions. An FM partner with lab expertise will be equipped to not only prevent building equipment failures, but also manage mundane, yet critical, tasks, such as ensuring a steady supply of clean glassware and research or testing inventory.

If the selected partner has expertise in industry regulations, it can even add further value by helping to mitigate facilities risks and helping to ensure the facilities remain safe and compliant. Over the past decade, leading FM service providers have invested in talent, technologies, and best practices for the most challenging lab environments across the life sciences and health care industries. These providers can also obtain substantial pricing discounts on many supplies and services through their global, vetted supplier networks.

In the coming years, the demands on lab professionals are likely to grow due to the increasing demand for breakthrough treatments and the scarcity of talent in many scientific specialties. Whether you’re focused on basic research, product development, or clinical testing and diagnostics, providing the right laboratory design elements and removing distractions will help your professionals produce the best results.