The office has been the place to work during the past 100 years. Each employee has had his/her dedicated place at a desk, which has been like a second home. This makes it easy for employees to execute their tasks efficiently. On the one hand, they can easily interact with their colleagues in the team. On the other hand, it is also easy for their managers to supervise them. This situation loosened up in recent years, as creative problem solving has become more and more important.
Some high-tech firms like Google1 and Microsoft2 no longer provide dedicated rooms for employees. Instead, they offer free desks, creating a working environment that nurtures spontaneous meetings and discussions.
Working in a home office is sometimes considered to be unproductive, as it is more difficult for employees to find and speak to other colleagues. They might also be distracted by household duties, and their managers cannot look over their shoulders. The pandemic has changed this dramatically with social distancing now encouraging people to work from home in the home office.3
As a new wave of Covid-19 lockdown rolls over us, this is becoming increasingly relevant. Nowadays, it is obvious that you can efficiently carry out standard office work such as writing reports or exchanging emails from home. Recent studies also confirm that well educated employees are equally productive in the home office4. The social dimension has also improved, as teams connect via
the web to have an after-work beer via Skype or Zoom. In addition, a LinkedIn survey indicates that many employees who have been forced to work at home don’t want to move back to the office again.5
Physical or Virtual?
Physical meetings in a conference room have been the normal way to discuss problems and make decisions. Video conferencing has been around for some time, but many people consider them a bad alternative to a real face-to-face meeting. In the past, we have travelled many miles for short business meetings because the ability to read the face of a customer or business partner was considered invaluable. However, the risk of spreading the Covid-19 virus via a face-to-face meeting has radically changed this perception.
Today many of us feel much more comfortable connecting in a socially distanced way via the Internet. Virtual meetings between people located in different cities, even across continents, have become a standard operating procedure via Skype or Zoom.6
The advantage is that you can log into the virtual meeting from anywhere. Once you have eliminated the need to be on-site to participate in a meeting, you might as well log in from your home office.7
Conferences have been a great place to meet people to discuss and learn new things, but gathering a large group of people from different locations increases the risk of transmitting the virus on a large scale. Virtual conferences have become a safer alternative and even provide a few advantages.
For example, our annual BIOVIA User Conference has always provided a great opportunity for customers to meet and learn from each other.8 Last year we organized the user conference for the first time as a completely virtual event.
The talks were prerecorded videos, allowing our attendees to watch them at time convenient to them. It was also easier to get busy experts to make a video recording when they could fit this into their busy calendar. Moreover, we did not have to convince our speakers to travel to the conference site at a specific date.
Our 2020 conference attracted more attendees than ever before, and the outcome was overwhelming positive. The next step for upcoming virtual conferences might be to include virtual coffee breaks to foster spontaneous conversations that usually occur in the queue for delicious biscuits. ☕
How about Science?
It is less obvious that you can do actual science at home. You might think that you would need a full homelab to do decent science, but you can actually do a lot of science at home. I am now not talking about chemical experiments in the kitchen like creating an emulsion of oil, vinegar and mustard to serve as a delightful dressing. I’m really talking about doing many important steps in the scientific process just with your laptop.
Any research project requires that you go through the steps of information gathering, design of experiment (DoE), execution of the research plan and analysis of the results. I will here outline how you can achieve this in the home office. The first step is to gather all the available background information to define the present state. You can search any public on-line database like Google Scholar9 from home with a cup of delicious home made coffee.
Similarly, BIOVIA provides a database of journal articles that are based on science conducted with BIOVIA tools10 . Using a VPN connection also allows you to access any corporate databases. However, you may also need to check your previous experiments and what your colleagues have done before. A cloud-based Electronic Lab Notebook – ELN, BIOVIA Notebook,11 is included in BIOVIA ScienceCloud.12
BIOVIA Notebook can be reached from any location
This is possible because BIOVIA ScienceCloud is a scalable cloud solution that takes your data over the rainbow and gives it a new home in the cloud. It provides a secure, unified environment for informatics solutions from BIOVIA including an ELN, inventory system and project management. The fact that ScienceCloud is cloud based means that you have access to all your data from the lab and also the data from your colleagues, directly at your fingertips in your home office. This allows you to search, find and analyze previous experiments. However, you are not limited to passively reading past experiments. You can even plan the next research campaign from home using a Design of Experiments procedure.
BIOVIA Materials Studio
You now have to decide whether to conduct a virtual computer experiment or a real physical experiment, but there is actually not a contradiction between these two types of experiments.
They are, in fact, complementary, as they shed light on different aspects of a problem. You can perform virtual experiments at home by running calculations with BIOVIA Materials Studio13 – while making dinner or getting a cup of coffee.
This is possible since Materials Studio has a distributed architecture, so you can prepare atomistic models on your local Materials Studio client, which runs on any standard Windows laptop.
Virtual vs Real ☕
You can sit at the kitchen table and create very complex atomistic models of your system under study. You may take inspiration from the surroundings and create an atomistic model of the sodium chloride salt in your salt dispenser or simulate the process to synthesize the caffeine that wakes you up in the morning.
However, you can also create a much more useful atomistic model of a complex alloy, a composite material or the interface between the electrolyte and the electrode in a battery cell.
If your laptop is connected to the Internet, you can send the calculation to a computing center to execute the calculation. This means that you don’t need to have a supercomputer in your closet. All you need is your laptop at home. In addition, you can perform other tasks, like checking your emails and participating in meetings, while the supercomputer in the remote computing center is crunching the numbers. You will get a notification when the calculation is ready, so you can download the results to your laptop.
This enables you to analyze the results in any location, wherever you feel most comfortable, like in your living room or when using WiFi. You can even go out into the garden. 🌳
Analyze Real Experiments
And you are not limited to virtual experiments. You can even prepare and analyze real experiments at home. You can outline and design the experimental procedure by creating a template for the execution of the experiment in the ELN or a more formalized recipe for the operating procedure using BIOVIA Compose.14
The next step is checking out what chemicals are in stock using the BIOVIA CISPro inventory system.15 Here you also find safety information to prepare you for any hazards related to handling of chemicals before you arrive at the lab. Once you have established the operating procedure and made sure that all ingredients are available, you can schedule the experiment with BIOVIA TaskPlan16 and you can book the required instrument. This means that you only need to go into the lab to load the samples and start the experiment when your experiment is scheduled to run. In this way, you can limit the number of people and social interactions in the lab to only those who should execute the experiments in the correct timeslot.
You can even monitor the execution of the experiment remotely, as your instrument result data can be directly stored in the ELN via BIOVIA Equipment17 — a module that seamlessly integrates instruments with the ELN. This means that you can go home and follow the progress of the experiment from your couch. When the experiment is completed, all the data is stored in the ELN where you can evaluate and analyze the results. In addition, you can perform more elaborate analysis by executing actions prepared by Pipeline Pilot protocols, which act on the data stored in the ELN database in ScienceCloud.12
BIOVIA Pipeline Pilot
BIOVIA Pipeline Pilot18 is a general-purpose modular data analysis environment where you can create complex workflows for data science, as well as predictive models using machine learning.
Pipeline Pilot has a distributed architecture similar to Materials Studio.13 You create the data analysis workflows called protocols on your local client, but the protocols can be executed remotely on the Pipeline Pilot server located in the computing center.
These protocols can act on the data stored in your ELN database, performing elaborate analysis and delivering the analytical results directly to your laptop. This means that you do not need to have a lab or a datacenter in your home.
Your laptop is all you need to orchestrate your lab and really make science at home.
Four Things That Make Google’s Offices So Googly https://officesnapshots.com/articles/what-makes-googles-offices-so-googly/
Microsoft describe it now open office space building: https://news.microsoft.com/stories/b16/
Google has announced that it will keep its employees to work from home until mid 2021. https://www.wsj.com/articles/google-to-keep-employees-home-until-summer-2021-amid-coronavirus-pandemic-11595854201
A recent article in National Bureau of Economic research concluded that knowledge work, or theoretical work done by highly skilled employees is as productive in home office as in the real office. https://www.nber.org/papers/w27422
LinkedIn survey indicates that parents don’t want to move back into the office https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/wfh-problem-parents-returning-office-wont-solve-caroline-fairchild/
The story when Zoom took over the world https://www.wired.co.uk/article/future-of-zoom
A recent article in European Journal of Information Systems concluded that the forced closing of offices due to COVID-19, has eliminated the difference between the in-office and home office workers. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0960085X.2020.1800417
BIOVIA User conference https://events.3ds.com/biovia-conference
Google Scholar https://scholar.google.com/
BIOVIA Reference Database https://www.3ds.com/products-services/biovia/references/
BIOVIA Notebook https://www.3ds.com/products-services/biovia/products/laboratory-informatics/electronic-lab-notebooks/biovia-notebook/
BIOVIA Materials Studio https://www.3ds.com/products-services/biovia/products/molecular-modeling-simulation/biovia-materials-studio/
BIOVIA Compose https://www.3ds.com/products-services/biovia/products/laboratory-informatics/procedure-execution/biovia-compose/
BIOVIA CISpro https://www.3ds.com/products-services/biovia/products/laboratory-informatics/materials-management/biovia-cispro/
BIOVIA TaskPlan https://www.3ds.com/products-services/biovia/products/laboratory-informatics/lab-management/biovia-task-plan/
BIOVIA Equipment https://www.3ds.com/products-services/biovia/products/laboratory-informatics/lab-management/biovia-equipment/
BIOVIA Pipeline Pilot https://www.3ds.com/products-services/biovia/products/data-science/pipeline-pilot/