Best Communication Tools for Water Labs in 2021

Water labs handled many necessary changes in 2020 while making the best of challenging circumstances. And like many of your colleagues, you've adopted new communication tools for working through a pandemic. There's no doubt that the COVID-19 era has changed the way people work — and as a water lab manager, you need to consider which new tools to bring into the "new normal" workplace in the new year.

Evaluate the Tools You Adopted During the Pandemic

In the year ahead, you may be able to get back to a workplace that's more familiar, but there certainly will be a transition period before social distancing efforts can relax. Plus, many of the virtual tools you adopted in 2020 could become permanent solutions.

First, review your previous year and write a list of new practices that you added during the pandemic. Think of 2020 as a trial period for these tools. To consider which ones you'll keep through the next year, ask yourself and your employees:

  • Which tools were the most effective?
  • Which were the easiest to use?
  • Which felt like they added to your workload?
  • Which tools helped you get through the unusual pandemic challenges, but will no longer be needed when we can return to normal business operations?

This is also a good chance to look at tools you were using before the pandemic that are now outdated or no longer meet your needs. Software evolves quickly. Many of the tricks you used to communicate during the pandemic can also help you communicate more effectively under any circumstances. Plus, they often replace email, and we could all use less inbox clutter!

Top 3 Communication Tools for Water Labs

By adding new communication channels, you can help your team work more efficiently, no matter what the future workplace looks like. Consider the following three tools, if you haven't adopted them already.

1. Video Conferencing Software

Virtual meetings and conferences have become standard practice this year. Even when technicians are in the lab testing water samples, your team meetings have likely moved online to limit exposure to one another. These constraints won't last forever, but video calls are here to stay. Moving forward, you may find that these meetings are a good way to connect with the whole team, especially if your lab has several shifts that don't overlap.

Each vendor has its own strengths, such as Microsoft Teams being strong for security and integration with other software, and Zoom being best for recording and meeting with people outside of your organization, such as clients. But just because you selected one of these vendors in 2020 doesn't mean you're locked in for life. Evaluate the tool and if you're not thrilled with it, be sure that you're not enrolled in an automatic subscription renewal and make the switch.

2. Instant Messaging

Using instant messaging tools, such as Slack, is a good way for employees to ask quick questions. With this tool, they can get an answer right away without wasting time walking away from their work station. Plus, virtual chats are a great way to collaborate with several team members at once to troubleshoot any issues that arise.

3. Project Management

When you have to avoid face-to-face meetings, it can be tricky to keep track of all of the different priorities in your lab. Project management tools, such as Asana, Trello, Airtable, and Monday, can help you visualize and assign tasks so that nothing slips through the cracks. These tools mimic what you would do in person on your lab's bulletin board by using virtual boards, lists, and cards to organize projects. Team members can even submit work through the app by attaching files and moving the task to the next stage.

Moving forward, you may want to keep these tools in place and use them to supplement in-person meetings. They can help you track which projects are ongoing and stay on top of deadlines. With any project management tool, there is potential for streamlining your lab's workflow, but that may come with a steep learning curve. If you're adding a new tool, plan to have formal training to help employees figure out how to use the software. Lab technicians are not project managers, but they are well-practiced in following procedures. If you're not sure which tool to choose, Trello is a good place to start because it's the simplest version of the popular project management tools.

Checklist for Implementing Lab Communication Tools

Now is the time to look at the past year and decide which tools worked for remote communication — and further, how to use them more efficiently to best plan for 2021. To decide which tools you want to use in the new year, consider the following steps:

  • Ask your team. Many of these tools have been available and used for a while, even for personal use, so ask employees directly which tools they prefer. As you already know, your team is your best asset.
  • Plan a budget. Set aside a specific amount of money for remote work tools in your 2021 budget and consider how many people will need access to the tool, given that the number of users often dictates the monthly cost.
  • Determine department needs. Different departments will have different needs; your sales and marketing team won't necessarily need the same tools as lab technicians and managers.
  • Consult with your IT or security colleagues. Every software and device will need to be properly vetted and secured.
  • Set a realistic timeline for implementation. Any time a completely new tool is introduced, there will be growing pains before ideal processes are worked out, so keep this in mind when considering the timeline.

Make effective communication a priority in 2021 by using tools to help you stay connected with your team no matter what's in store ahead.

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Kelly McSweeney
Science and Technology Writer
Armed with a master's degree in writing and a decade of professional work in scientific publishing, Kelly McSweeney writes about science and technology innovations. She translates complicated topics into stories that capture the curiosity of everyone from casual readers to technical experts. Kelly has degrees from Emerson College and the University of Vermont, and has worked on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics publications at Wiley, In Compliance magazine, and Pearson. Her articles about the latest research are published by ZDNet, Northrop Grumman, and Wiley.