In response to the COVID-19 crisis, universities took decisive action to ramp down research operations on campus and implement new policies to ensure safety among researchers deemed essential. Now, as research leaders begin planning to ramp back up on-campus research activity, they must consider how to safely resume operations. A critical component will be meticulously scheduling and tracking lab occupants and users. Yet many institutions lack the scheduling system bandwidth—or are underutilizing current systems—to handle these increased demands.
Below we have outlined several scheduling software solutions institutions can use to better plan and monitor use of research lab space. These range from free and easy-to-implement options to higher-cost, embedded, long-term solutions.
Choosing low-cost space scheduling apps for a speedy research ramp up
When Principal Investigators (PIs) are finally given the go-ahead to return to their labs, it is safe to assume they will be doing so in a limited capacity—either an institutionally mandated percentage, city or state percentage, or “as many people as is safe.” This will require PIs, lab managers, and department chairs to have quick, easy-to-implement remote scheduling applications at their fingertips before the first lab re-opens. The graphic below shows six applications that individual research labs can use as decentralized scheduling solutions.
Investing in individual module solutions for space scheduling
The University Research Forum hosted virtual roundtables with Vice Presidents of Research
What Research leaders told us about their COVID-19 responses—and what questions they still haveView the insight
Low-cost scheduling apps allow a quick fix for individual labs amidst COVID-19. But they often cannot solve the underlying problems of wasted space and, now, risks to human health caused by non-integrated solutions. That would require centralized, university-wide space scheduling solutions, which require a large upfront investment. Some administrators may balk at such spending at a time like this, but coronavirus has drastically altered space planning and utilization on campus. As a result, space management systems are more critical than ever before, especially for ensuring human safety.
The middle-ground option between one-off, free apps and campus-wide scheduling platforms is to use stand-alone individual module systems. These allow institutions to streamline space management and scheduling and enable more sophisticated and tailored lab assignments. Companies like AgilQuest offer individual module solutions that are not higher-ed specific but offer useful room management capabilities. Other module solutions like Ad Astra and CollegeNet are tailor-made for higher education so they allow for data integration with many student information systems (SIS), but rarely with pre-existing campus-wide scheduling platforms.
Integrated Workplace Management Systems (IWMS): If not now, when?
Institutions may survive and even thrive using stand-alone space management modules to address COVID-19 scheduling needs. However, coronavirus has exposed space management weaknesses and introduced novel challenges to how institutions have traditionally coordinated facilities management operations. Institutions should therefore take advantage of this opportunity to reassess their overall systems, and where needed, make investments in tools like IMWS to prepare them for a post-coronavirus future.
Unlike individual module solutions, IWMS consist of component tools that cover the full scope of facilities management, from capital projects to maintenance to space management. While stand-alone space management software unaffiliated with an IWMS tends to be more comprehensive than individual IWMS space management modules, they are harder to integrate with existing systems and do not benefit from being part of a greater network of tools. For example, each IMWS component tool both pulls from and feeds to the centralized IWMS, which allows institutions to use IMWS to manage all facilities processes from procurement to disposition. In short, IWMS can increase an institution’s space management and scheduling capacity as well as offer additional benefits like overall streamlined operations. That can make the bigger price tag worthwhile, especially in the long run.
IWMS component space management tools are particularly equipped to boost institutions’ research lab space scheduling capacity. Institutions can use IWMS component space management tools to assess and optimize how they use research labs and ultimately assign and schedule lab space to researchers. These tools centralize and streamline management and scheduling of space, making it easier for institutions to consider and tailor lab assignments on factors like lab size, location, equipment, technology, and vacancy.
For institutions that already employ select IWMS modules, acquiring a space management module now would be a relatively light burden in terms of cost and implementation. Not to mention, it would be much more efficient than purchasing a new non-IWMS, stand-alone space management system. For institutions that are not ready to pull the trigger on a complete system, but who plan to do so in the future, individual IWMS space management modules can be purchased and then later scaled up and integrated with other modules in an IWMS package.
The table below identifies several IWMS options and their component space management solutions as well as various stand-alone space management solutions.