HappiLabs Coronavirus update — March 26, 2020

Hello HappiLabs community. This is HappiTom, CEO, speaking.

Virtual hug or a fist bump.

I’m trying to be transparent with our employees and customers to maintain confidence that your scientists can continue to lean on the HappiLabs Virtual Lab Managers (VLMs). I also write this to offer guidance and ideas to other operators of small businesses as we evaluate tough decisions and which strategies to execute.

Our overall strategy for adapting to a fast-changing environment: be patient, observe, decide.

Based on this, here is what’s going on at HappiLabs:

Our headquarters is in Illinois (home of the Chicago Cubs and The Field Musueum) with a Shelter-in-place order. According to language in the Order we are an essential business and can work at the office:

    • Section 7 “….biotechnology companies (including operations, research and development, manufacture, and supply chain).”
    • And per Gov. Pritzker’s words: “roles that are essential to the supply chain”

Virtual Lab Managers are critical for lab operations to maintain inventory and supply chain. Some of our labs are processing patient samples. Covid19 or not, we leave no patient behind!

Tough Decision #1: Do we force any employees to work from the office to maintain our pre-pandemic operational efficiency?

No. Virtual lab managers can work anywhere, and we will continue to reduce opportunities for coronavirus transmission. It is currently optional for our employees to go into the office. However, I am recommending that our Team Leaders organize a rotating skeleton crew at our HQ starting next week. We have plenty of office space and will practice social distancing protocol.

Raudel_Sandoval_Happy_Virtual_Lab_ManagerOffices have a better technological setup than our employees have at home, allowing them to focus, work faster, and be more responsive to the needs of scientists. We are using this week as experience to determine how our productivity changes at home and then decide who should spend some time in the office.

To improve our work-from-home capabilities, we are immediately increasing the usage of two off-the-shelf apps to maintain efficient operations:

    • OpenPhone helps maintain each VLMs ability to constantly make phone calls to customer service, sales reps, and tech support while they work from home.
    • Domo is a data analytics platform to monitor productivity of our lab managers and lab busyness. 

Tough decision #2: If we lose income for any reason, do we cut staff?

That is not the plan, but we do want to remain profitable during these tough times. Therefore the strategy to save money, if necessary, is by temporarily reducing hours or salaries from some employees before cutting 1 job. We are changing some employees from salaried to hourly to increase the ability for flexible hours. 

To simplify it: some people might lose money in the short-term (until their government check arrives), but no one is losing a job.

In any case, I do not anticipate we will suffer much. HappiLabs is a strong company with smart scientists managing labs all across America. We have a strong brand and loyal following. We have a decent buffer of cash and a line of credit. And….Until every scientist has access to a Virtual Lab Manager, there will always be demand. If we lose some customers soon, we will gain new ones.

Also, we are sticking to our regular vacation policy and schedules. If an employee had a day off already planned, they can keep it that way, and we will make sure no one’s health benefits get cut.

Tough Decision #3: What do we do about delinquent paying customers?

Myself or our accounting team will be reaching out very soon. To avoid being taken advantage of, we are planning a strategy we’ve never done before.

If a customer is late paying us by more than 45 days, and you are not responding to our emails or phone calls, we will stop working for that lab.

It’s a tough decision because we do not want to leave any scientist hanging, but we need to get paid in a timely fashion for managing your lab. 

Advice to labs who are struggling to fundraise or stay alive…..do your best not to stiff small businesses as you run out of cash. Be transparent (as best you can) and please pay the giant corporations last. Keep fighting, but if doomsday does arrive, I will buy you a beer and give you a shoulder to cry on.

Decision #4: What are we doing to stay busy for our labs?

Cleaning and maintenance. Purchasing has slowed down for many labs (definitely not all), therefore we are busy cleaning your accounting, tracking all open orders, and organizing your chemical safety documents and inventory (SDSs, etc.).

We also created a Coronavirus Task Force to keep a close eye on supplier and shipping updates. If we anticipate a risk to your lab’s supply chain and operations, you will be notified. Four of our Virtual Lab Managers are involved. Read about them here

Stay strong!

HappiTom

Chief technology officer of Chicago business


Message from March 18…..

Short summary of this message: 

HappiLabs will operate at limited capacity for the rest of this week (Thursday and Friday), and then back to full force on Monday. Expect slower responses on Thurs/Fri.

Please cc purchasing@happilabs.org on all communications to your Virtual Lab Manager to ensure faster responsiveness, if you need it. This email will forward to a small group of people who can help you.

The longer message:

As the world changes, I am directing our employees to take a day off Thursday or Friday to spend time with loved ones and let it all sink in. We’re calling it a “Take a breather” Day. The plan is to go easy for the rest of this week, and then be ready, fully charged for next week and beyond.

For labs in the Bay Area, according to the Order given to the Bay Area, biotechnology companies are an “essential business” and can stay open. See section 10B of the Shelter-in-place order. Therefore, HappiLabs will be here to support Silicon Valley scientists in any ways, except for….

….Thursday and Friday, we will have a skeleton crew available at HappiLabs to keep an eye on things and help with urgent situations in your lab. Responses will be slower than normal and we probably will not place many orders.

Please cc purchasing@happilabs.org on all communications to your Virtual Lab Manager to ensure faster responsiveness, if you need it. This email will forward to a small group of people who can help you.

That being said, some of our Virtual Lab Managers want to keep working each day, so some of your labs will continue with 100%, fast support for the rest of this week. Your lab manager will let you know if that’s them.

After this week, even if purchasing slows down, we still plan to be busy cleaning your accounting, following up on all open orders, and organizing your chemical safety documents and inventory (SDSs, etc.).

Aside from that, I’m not going to sit here and tell we’re “operating as normal.” Frankly, I’m annoyed at any company who claims that. I’ll be real with you and tell you we’re not operating like normal, but our managers are meeting daily to evolve our business operations to fit the changing landscape. I expect your experience with HappiLabs to change very little, but our behind the scenes will change as we adjust to work-from-home, extra days off from our team, and social distancing.

We will also be putting our Accounts Receivable department to work. If you owe HappiLabs money, please pay it, especially a few of you who owe from January or February, and especially before paying the behemoth corporations like Fisher, Thermo, VWR and Sigma. We very much appreciate it.

That is all for now. Good luck and may the force (and your immune system) be with you!

Tom Ruginis, CEO and President of HappiLabs, Inc

5/6 COVID-19 update and Getting Back to Work in the New Normal

Supply Chain and Courier Updates

Per our last updates, suppliers are mostly operating and processing orders.

They are still practicing physical distancing and operations are a bit slower than usual. Sales reps aren’t traveling and so are quite responsive to quote requests on the whole.

Many are still prioritizing PPE for COVID-19 response. Smaller suppliers like CP Lab Safety (they’ve shipped some of their masks day of order) or other smaller suppliers are likelier to have availability (especially masks; in general “short” lead times are around two weeks).

Keep in mind that some suppliers are considering all sales final and not accepting returns due to COVID-19.

Couriers are operating, but last mile deliveries can still be problematic. Thank delivery drivers, have clear signs that a lab is open to delivery, and let suppliers know that the lab is open and if there are any issues with a shipment, contact them to help resolve it.

The Happi Note – Getting Back to Work

HappiLabs and many of our partner labs continued to work as essential businesses during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, with many working from home.

Many labs did temporarily close and may be wondering about how to resume operations as the COVID-19 physical distancing restrictions ease.

Having a plan to safely get back to work and how COVID-19 will continue to impact operations is important. For instance, one lab has masks, hand-sanitizer, gloves, and sticky floor mats at key entryways ready for scientists returning to the lab.

Several suppliers are hosting webinars aimed at this:

HappiLabs remains at work and this month will be safely and fully re-opening our offices as shelter-in-place orders are eased.

We are grateful for the worlds scientists and healthcare workers that are working to mitigate COVID-19 and helping us all get back to work in new innovative ways.

COVID19 Supply Chain Updates 4/23

Supply Chain Updates

Per our last updates, suppliers are mostly operating and processing orders.

They are still practicing physical distancing and operations are a bit slower than usual.

Many are still prioritizing PPE (especially masks; shortest lead times we’ve found are around two weeks).

Keep in mind that some suppliers are considering all sales final and not accepting returns due to COVID-19.

Courier Updates

Keep close eye on shipments. Definitely get tracking numbers and monitor them and make sure items get delivered.

FedEx and UPS are both operating, but are not guaranteeing delivery, have suspended signature requirements for delivery verification, and aren’t always re-attempting deliveries if they can’t deliver to a site.

For global freight monitoring, Agility Logistics has put together this resource.

We recommend having a sign where deliveries occur stating a lab is open for deliveries and any relevant instructions to ensure a smooth delivery.

If a shipment goes awry, contact the shipper first to see if they can resolve it.

The Happi Note

There are a few labs in the HappiLabs network working directly on COVID-19. Distributed Bio is working on a therapeutic. Octant, Inc. is developing a better detection protocol for the virus. They’re two out of many others working to help the world manage a pandemic.

Grants dedicated to COVID-19 are also out there for scientists working on it.

Rheaply has worked with Northwestern University’s Computer Science department to set up a resource exchange program for getting critical supplies where they are needed. Follow the link to register.

HappiLabs continues to operate and we are grateful for the world’s scientists who work to identify, manage, and solve the world’s problems.

Lab Manager actions while physical distancing and COVID19 Supply Chain Updates 4/15

Lab Manager Actions

Here are some action items HappiLabs recommends while operations at the lab are limited:

  • Chemical inventory (and gathering SDSs that are missing)
  • Take refresher courses on safety and operations
  • Inventory and document capital equipment on site
    • Gather serial numbers, warranty expiry dates, service agreements, and maintenance contact info on a spreadsheet
  • Plan to start up again (make a plan for people to ramp up work
    • Including getting orders in place where possible (some suppliers will hold them until you’re up and running again)
  • Review suppliers/supplies currently used and shop around for better pricing/quality (sales reps are pretty responsive just now)
  • Catch up on reading papers
  • Do technical research on supplies/equipment that might be needed
  • Ensure any equipment not in use is properly shut down (e.g. BSCs)

Supply Chain Updates

Per our last updates, suppliers are mostly operating and processing orders.

They are practicing physical distancing and operations are a bit slower than usual.

Reminder that some suppliers are considering all sales final and not accepting returns due to COVID-19.

And some suppliers are noting that FedEx and UPS are no longer guaranteeing delivery.

Courier Updates

Couriers continue to operate, but note they are still missing deliveries, at times only making one attempt before returning to sender. Last-mile delivery is still the biggest current issue.

FedEx and UPS, as we have noted are also not guaranteeing delivery and not offering reimbursement for lost packages.

If you do need an order processed, let the supplier know that the your lab is open and accepting deliveries and post signage at your delivery entrance to signal to delivery drivers deliveries are being accepted.

The Happi Note

Biocom is maintaining a list of institutions needs for PPE that are working on the COVID-19 front lines. If you have excess, consider donating.

There is a similar list of institutions in need in Illinois and a team is working to match those with supply to those with demand.

HappiLabs is continuing to monitor the effects on the scientific supply chain and continuing to help scientists get the quality items they need to continue their research.

COVID19 Supply Chain updates 4/8

Life sciences suppliers are still largely operational and working, albeit a bit slower than usual as they work to manage processing orders while protecting their own workers as much as possible.

PPE supplies remain tight. Gloves are more available than masks, gowns and sleeves.

Supply Chain Updates

Charles River and The Jackson Laboratory

Animal deliveries affected (via an email from Charles River):

  • As of 4/13 will not be making animal deliveries on Wednesdays in the Bay area
  • Throughout the rest of the week, they are making fewer stops along their routes.
  • Delivery times will be earlier than usual as well given their reduced delivery schedule.
  • Jax has a resources page for managing animals, including cryoperservation and pre-ordering for when labs re-open
  • Jax is also sending around a truck on April 13th and 20th in the San Francisco Bay Area if a lab wants mouse strains picked up for cryppreservation (contact jaxservices@jax.org to inquire).

VWR (could be affecting other suppliers as well)

Some suppliers are experiencing a high volume of unauthorized returns (i.e. couriers unable to deliver and returning items to sender).

  • VWR has told us they have a lot of returns they are sorting through
  • If you *need* an item you ordered, they recommend placing a new order while they sort things out.
  • As always, call the supplier to talk to the shipping compay regarding misrouted/returned packages.
  • VWR has cancelled PPE orders drop shipping from manufacturers like 3M due to high demand. 3M is essentially refusing the VWR purchase orders.
    • This is evidence that suppliers are prioritizing fulfillment for hospitals/companies directly involved in working on COVID-19.

Fisher

  • Fisher Scientific now has a statement on their site akin to what most other suppliers have said about prioritizing PPE orders for customers directly doing work on COVID-19.
  • As with other suppliers, take extra time to order and note the full name of a recipient and let the supplier know a location is open to deliveries.

Twist Bioscience

Twist Bioscience is the first supplier we have seen to actively state they will accept an order and delay shipment until a lab re-opens. If you ask when placing an order, some suppliers will do this for the scientific community even if not stated as openly as Twist Bioscience did.

Courier Updates

Couriers are operating as they were last week and still working to sort out non-delivered packages (often just returning to sender). Get in touch with the supplier to attempt to re-route any packages. See our last post for how couriers are being affected.

The Happi Note

Suppliers are managing this and as essential businesses in response to COVID-19, remain open.

Keep washing hands and ensure that surfaces are properly cleaned. Production Automation Corporation has gathered guidelines for cleaning surfaces to mitigate COVID-19 spread (though note: these are recommendations based on what we know has worked against other coronaviruses and can reasonably be expected to work as well against SARS-CoV-2 (aka COVID-19).

If you have extra supplies, Biocom has a site of places requesting items and to register if you are needing supplies.

HappiLabs is contining to monitor the supply chain and is still working along with our partners to help scientists during this pandemic.

COVID19 updates 4/3

Science goes on and most life sciences suppliers are considered essential and remain operational, though operating more slowly as they practice physical distancing (i.e. customer and technical services work from home).

Supply Chain Updates

Items outside of PPE and patient sample collection items remain largely available and the normal supply chain is operational, if slower.

Worth repeating that PPE and patient sample collection items like masks and flocked swabs are are in short supply and often on backorder.

For PPE requests with reputable suppliers, HappiLabs recommends the following:

  • Don’t believe a supplier website about their availability/lead time.
  • Calling customer service is also often not reliable at the moment.
  • Get an order in anyway for the PPE item you want.
    • This might prompt an estimated delivery date and gets you on a waiting list.

Carrier Updates

FedEx has a page dedicated to how COVID-19 is affecting their operations and deliveries. Highlights:

  • FedEx has options to re-route packages for local pickup if a delivery is missed
  • They recommend letting vendors know a lab is open for deliveries (for HappiLabs, we’ve got you covered!)
  • Cashback guarantees and delivery signature requirements have been suspended.

UPS has a similar site minus the help with delivery options. And as we reported last week, our anecdotal experience is that UPS seems to be having more delivery disruptions and problems than FedEx.

While most of the carrier industry is still working, their operations *are* often affected, especially in the final miles of delivery to a specific address.

We still recommend when placing an order scientists let their supplier know they are open and to place obvious signage stating that fact for the benefit of delivery people.

The Happi Note

COVID-19 is still around and physical distancing orders have been extended in many places around the world, including the United States.

The recommendations we made in our last COVID-19 impact post still stand. Keep washing your hands regularly.

We’re still working. Many labs are still working, even if limited just now.

Most items are in stock at suppliers and passionate scientists are continuing to work, including many on the novel Coronavirus, working toward solutions.

We’re here to improve scientists’ happiness and quality of their research and are thankful to all of them who provide a positive vision of the future, especially in times of uncertainty and disruption.