Staffing Your Lab in Uncertain Times: Challenges and Tips
Even in the best of times, staffing your water lab is a challenge with many moving parts. But in uncertain times, as with the current COVID-19 pandemic, those challenges can be dramatically multiplied. Thinking through every possible scenario and developing a comprehensive plan can help you stay on top of staff-related concerns and keep your lab operating smoothly.
Staffing Challenges in an Uncertain Climate
Once, developing a schedule mostly meant ensuring you had enough employees to effectively and efficiently complete projects. It's still all that, but the variables are considerably more numerous and complex. Here are four factors that have likely already begun impacting how you staff your lab.
As you develop your schedule during these times, one of the biggest considerations to bear in mind is that one of your staffers might contract COVID-19. You have to prepare for this, as it might require some shifting of schedules to cover the work. The best scenario is they'll need to be in self-isolation for at least 14 days, although this could last much longer if they have severe or long-lasting symptoms.
Make sure you have a workplace safety plan in place for sanitizing your lab and keeping operations running in the event that an employee gets sick. Executing on this plan, and reminding your staff of its importance, is key to minimize future infections.
Even if no member of your staff contracts the novel coronavirus, there's still a chance it could impact their household and, by extension, your schedule. Employees may need to take significant periods away from work, either to take care of sick family members or children if schools and day care centers are closed. Think about how you'll ensure coverage in these scenarios, and consider cross-training the rest of your staff in preparation for unexpected and prolonged absences.
Due to the ramifications of the pandemic, working professionals across industries are opting to quit their jobs or take early retirement. There is a range of reasons for this, including personal preconditions and particularly vulnerable family members. Make sure you're prepared to hire new team members or have current employees fill in on responsibilities if your lab sees turnover.
Your scheduling considerations are likely to be impacted by the need to balance your lab's workload with the need to ensure your staffers have time and flexibility to maintain their personal health and responsibilities. It's critical to ensure everyone — yourself included — has ample opportunity to rest, relax, and recharge their batteries so they can keep up with the increased demands of the job. Remember: No one benefits if your staff members burn out from work overload.
Develop a Lab Staffing Plan
As the COVID-19 pandemic has made crystal clear, any period of widespread uncertainty can last for several months. That's why you need to plan and be able to maintain a schedule for the long run. International management consulting firm Gartner recommends taking these steps to develop a staffing plan:
- Determine your key business operations. In a water lab, there's no function that isn't critical, but there may be some jobs that can be at least temporarily relegated to a lower tier of priority in the name of preserving staff for core functions.
- Focus on key roles and skill sets. With those key operations identified, ensure your team is fluent in the specific skill sets needed to maintain those functions.
- Ask the tough questions. What's the maximum level of absenteeism in which your lab could still operate? To what extent must your employees be cross-trained in order to perform multiple duties?
Additional Staffing Resources
Despite the best preparatory efforts, there's always the chance that you'll be unable to account for all the possible impacts long-lasting disruptions such as a pandemic can have on your lab. You also might not have adequate resources in hand to address all possible scenarios. Here are two resources outlining federal best practices:
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's "Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic."
- The Environmental Protection Agency's "Water Utility Resources for the COVID-19 Pandemic."
Your lab isn't the only business facing staff challenges right now. With these resources and a proactive mindset, you can do your part to safeguard your staff and ensure operations keep running.