12 Tips to Free up R&D Professionals' Time
Driven by the need to respond to global hyper-competition and the increasing speed of technological change, companies are relying heavily on their research and development (R&D) functions to accelerate innovation.
It’s widely acknowledged that businesses thrive when employees work to their strengths. In fact, people who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their role. But studies show that only 15% of employees feel engaged with their work.
In organizations where R&D is a focus, this is especially important. Today, several different factors are causing R&D budgets to be driven down, meaning these departments are being asked to achieve more with the same or fewer resources. However, many organizations are finding that 39% of their knowledge workers have problems with document management. These tasks are taking R&D professionals away from working on what they specialize in, which significantly reduces efficiency and productivity in a laboratory environment.
So, how can R&D scientists and teams be more productive? We’ve put together some tips to help businesses free up employees’ time, so that they can focus on their strengths and get back to working on their true passions.
Identify which tasks are priorities, and which are less important
49% of surveyed employees have trouble locating documents.
Individuals that work in R&D are experts in their field – testing out theories and making new and innovative discoveries that could be revolutionary. Why, then, are so many of these professionals finding themselves wasting time each working day on mundane tasks that they are over-qualified for? This is time that could be used to discover the next big thing in whichever industry they work in. The solution is to decide exactly which tasks are priorities. By encouraging knowledge workers to think about how they spend their working days, and deciding which tasks are most important to them and their organization, it will become clear which jobs are not a good use of their time. These low-value tasks can be dropped or outsourced, and the R&D individuals can recoup on average one full day a week – time that can be spent focusing on science.
Encourage employees to identify which of their daily tasks are priorities.
Focus on activities which drive business growth and revenue, and directly impact R&D innovation.
Look to delegate less important tasks to other members of the team, or drop entirely if they are not business-critical.
Review and amend unsuitable business processes
To help their company sustain a competitive advantage, R&D organizations need to become more
innovative and adapt to new technologies.
In many organizations where R&D is a focus, it can sometimes be challenging to implement change. Certain processes and procedures may have been done a specific way for as long as people can remember and introducing updates and new ideas can cause disruption.
However, innovation can only come with the injection of fresh ideas and opinions, and this improves efficiency. An example of this is experts working within a business who are extremely knowledgeable about a certain area. Due to their knowledge, over time a process may have been implemented that encourages other employees to simply direct questions and queries their way. The downside of this is their time is taken up researching and finding answers to these questions, because it’s always been done that way.
Investigating alternatives such as setting up new dedicated departments, or putting together new teams who are trained in specific areas will help to alleviate the pressure on individuals whose time could be better spent on other activities.
Identify current processes within the business that require the knowledge or expertise of an R&D professional.
Research alternative methods for the information to be shared.
Implement the new processes, and encourage all employees to follow these guidelines going forward.
Look for technological solutions to free up time
Data scientists spend about 45% of their time on data preparation tasks, which include loading and cleaning data.
When it comes to freeing up employees’ time, today’s modern technology can help considerably. New solutions can greatly reduce the time it takes to carry out certain tasks, making employees more efficient and enhancing productivity. Although historic processes and old-fashioned methods still get the job done, it makes sense to work smarter rather than harder, and embrace these new solutions. For R&D professionals, one example that’s growing in popularity is an electronic alternative to traditional laboratory notebooks. Electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) use innovative technology to streamline report writing, and are faster, easier to use, and more reliable than their paper-based predecessors. Given that many R&D organizations still lack adequate systems to automatically collect data for reporting, analysis and decision-making, it’s clear these electronic solutions are necessary.
Investigate modern alternatives to existing tools and processes that could help free up time.
Consider replacing traditional paper-based notebooks with an ELN to streamline report writing.
Once new solutions have been introduced, offer training to all staff so that individuals with different seniority levels can comfortably use them.
Identify skills gaps in departments
58% of Millennials believe success in their careers depends on learning new skills.
As well as identifying improvements that can be made to business processes, another important area to consider is people skills. If R&D professionals’ time is being taken up with menial tasks that they’re overqualified for, there’s a skills gap elsewhere in the business. Start by identifying departments that are lacking the necessary human resources to run smoothly, or are simply missing vital knowledge and skills. This could be a result of the business having no knowledge transfer process in place, so that when employees leave, their knowledge goes with them. Filling these department gaps could be as simple as building people up from within the business – training existing employees and widening their skill sets so that they can do the jobs R&D professionals can’t afford to spend time on. With so many baby boomers entering retirement, training junior members of staff to have the knowledge and expertise that has historically been held with more senior members of staff is a sensible business decision.
Identify which departments are missing important business knowledge.
Implement a comprehensive training program for junior staff to ensure there is sufficient knowledge transfer.
Alternatively, look to employ new members of staff to fill the gaps and inject fresh insight into the business.
It doesn’t make good business sense to have experts that specialize in specific areas working on activities that don’t benefit their department, especially in the R&D sector where daily experiments can lead to groundbreaking discoveries. By implementing the tips in this guide, R&D professionals will be able to start taking back their time and focusing on what they do best. Small changes like eliminating non-business critical tasks and delegating to junior staff members are a good start. Going forward, bigger steps such as ensuring a comprehensive knowledge transfer process is in place will also mean that skills and knowledge are not held with only one or two individuals. And, by working smarter rather than harder, and using tools such as ELNs to streamline report writing, R&D professionals can become more efficient, more productive, and ultimately more innovative.
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