The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), while a huge challenge for many organizations, provides an opportunity to look critically at how our workplaces operate day-to-day. The virus has moved us to innovate to maintain efficiency on our teams, create momentum on projects, and meet our quarter and mid-year goals.
A few weeks after the world went into isolation, we reached out to thought leaders in quality assurance and compliance to ask for their advice on how they are empowering their teams to thrive at a time when there’s no clear path forward.
Here are their excellent insights to using COVID-19 as an opportunity for positive change.
1.) Be Creative. Be Flexible.
As the Quality Manager for the Virginia Department of Forensic Science (DFS), Alka Lohmann wears many hats across her agency and is responsible for maintaining their accreditation. Given the strict regulations surrounding forensic labs, COVID-19 has created enormous challenges for her and her team. In spite of it all, Lohmann’s team has turned obstacles into opportunity.
“This is not the way we’ve done things before and that’s okay. Our team’s creativity has been the driving force in staying operational,” she says, adding, “Flexibility has also played a key role in our success.”
Due to the nature of lab work, the majority of her staff don’t have the luxury to work 100% from home. However, Lohmann has ensured that organizational goals are being met while simultaneously caring for the health of her team.
“One example is a casework examiner. The examiner can’t take their instruments and evidence home with them. We’ve been flexible with work hours so we are able to continue to get the work completed but have less people in the lab,” she explained.
Some staff have elected to work 10 hours per day, 4 days a week, while others are choosing to work at night or during other non-traditional hours. DFS staff have even explored other aspects of wellbeing like playing inspirational music at work to keep spirits high.
2.) Optimize with a cloud-based QMS/Compliance Software.
With over 20 years of experience in quality assurance, there isn’t a lot that Michelle Robertson hasn’t seen before. Then COVID-19 happened. This put the Quality Assurance Officer at the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority in a difficult position. “We really had to rethink and strategize about how we could continue to serve our customers while protecting the health and safety of our team,” said Robertson.
With a staff of 8, Michelle had to create a plan that would work for everyone.
“Our winning move was to leverage the Qualtrax system to make the best use of our time away from the lab,” she said.
Many labs across the world are in a similar position, wanting lab staff to be able to work from home, while simultaneously unsure of what work can effectively be completed outside the traditional workplace. Michelle is making use of the time tracking feature in Qualtrax to provide accountability between her staff and upper management, allowing for greater flexibility.
“One great thing I’ve learned during this process is that the staff are eager to be involved in the document review process,” said Robertson. “This is something I’m really looking forward to continuing post-COVID.”
3.) Create policies that put people first.
“The most challenging part for me has been supporting and uplifting my team from a distance,” said Eva King, Quality Assurance Director at the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratories.
Like many managers around the world, Eva is supporting a staff with a wide and deepening array of pressures outside work while also working to maintain her lab’s accreditation via ISO/IEC 17025:2017. Lab staff are continually confronted with COVID-19 challenges that threaten family, home and work life. Her team members are also dealing with work-life balance constraints as children are home from school and childcare is largely unavailable.
“As a management team, we really had to step it up to adjust our policies to fit the current situation,” she said, adding “for us, that meant staggering lab time and putting policy in place that would allow for some functions normally done onsite to be done at home. We relied heavily on Qualtrax in order to do that.”
4.) Establish a centralized hub for all documentation, training and communication.
New York City and its environs are the epicenter for Coronavirus in the United States. Tim Hahn, Quality Assurance and Quality Control Manager of the Nassau County Office of the Medical Examiner, is witnessing the pandemic up close.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Hahn, adding, “as we speak, there are seven, refrigerated trucks outside our office waiting for us to process.”
The Nassau County Office of the Medical Examiner is located adjacent to the Queens Borough of New York City and Tim Hahn’s office has played a major role in determining the cause of death for many of the COVID-19 victims.
When asked about the biggest challenge his lab has faced, he responded that it’s been figuring out how to create work for staff outside the lab and ensuring continuity of instrumental analyses.
“And that’s where Qualtrax has come to the forefront,” he said. “Qualtrax’s cloud-based software has given me the ability, as a manager, to assign training to staff, request assistance in reviewing documents, manuals and SOPs.”
Because his staff can all work within Qualtrax, there is one center point for staff to work on projects collaboratively – even when they’re not together at the lab. Tim described working from home as an opportunity for the lab to catch up on activities that take the backseat normally.
5. Set up time saving workflows.
Overseeing the daily operations of six labs, Katrina Featherston doesn’t have a lot of time to waste. Katrina, Quality Manager for the Kentucky State Police Central Laboratory Branch, has had to balance meeting her labs’ goals while also taking care of her staff.
“The hardest piece for us is how to comply with social distancing protocol while also providing adequate time in the lab,” she said.
With only 50% of her team allowed in the lab at any given time, the rest have had to work from home working on peer review and data analytics. Katrina, herself, is working 100% from home in order to allow space for her team to use the lab.
“Our best strategy has been to move everything from the server to Qualtrax so that all of our documents are in a cloud-based situation,” she said, adding, “having everything in one place has been extremely helpful in managing multiple labs at one time.”
Though there is no exact science to continuing operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, we hope that these industry experts have inspired you with ways to propel your lab toward your goals despite COVID-19.
Being creative, being flexible, optimizing with a cloud-based system, creating policies that put people first, establishing a centralized information hub, and setting up workflows can make a huge impact on your organization’s success. Whether you choose to adopt all of these strategies, or just a few, we hope you’ll let us help you during this crisis!
We are proud to serve industries that are essential and provide mission critical products and services to our world. We are happy to be here to support you as these operations are now more important than ever to continue. We will continue to provide educational resources to help support critical businesses during this unprecedented time. Keep an eye on our event calendar for free educational webinars!