Are Veterinary Practices Suited for WFH?

Working remotely isn't a new concept; it's been a part of every job I've had since I left college. That said, there's been a seismic shift over the last 12 months. Companies across industries quickly established work-from-home (WFH) policies as a way to keep their teams safe while still being productive.

And now, many employees are not ready to give those solutions up. A recent study by Harvard Business School shows professional employees excelled while working at home with 81% wanting to continue to have at least some days working away from the office. To make that happen, organizations must continue to refine their processes and team members must figure out how to build connections and maintain a work-life balance when they're not at the office every day.

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For many jobs, this investment in WFH is worth it for the flexibility and savings it offers, but can it work in veterinary practices?

Is WFH a Fit for Your Practice?

On the surface, many of the things that veterinary teams do require them to be physically present. Tasks such as drawing blood or examining a patient require hands-on interaction, after all. Dig a little deeper though and there are plenty of services and tasks that can be done off-site. Before figuring out which you can do from home, though, it is worth asking: Does your team want it?

Not everyone wants to mix their work and personal lives. For some, this is because they don't have a comfortable and well-equipped location to work in. For others, leaving work at the practice is a key way to create a physical separation, helping to keep work stress out of their personal lives. Survey your team and determine what percentage is interested in remote work before making any changes to your policies.

You also need to be able to provide access to the tools and software you use in the office, likely including computers for employees to use at home. We were lucky when we started, as many of our main systems were already available in the cloud, from our practice management software to our accounting software. These hosted services made transitioning to remote work much easier. If you are hosting your systems locally, you'll need to carefully consider the benefits before investing.

Which Veterinary Roles Are Suited for WFH?

Some roles are better suited to remote work than others — the most obvious WFH group being your management team. In truth, many of us already take calls, check schedules, and perform other out-of-hours tasks during the day. Extending that into a more structured arrangement is relatively easy as your management team probably has the tools and access that they need.

With my practice management software, accounting software, and even staff scheduling in the cloud, I can now work from almost anywhere, allowing me to take at least one day every week off-site. Although there are definitely benefits to being in the office, the lack of interruptions at home makes it much easier to work on things that require a dedicated block of time, such as accounting or protocol updates.

Writing notes away from the practice has been another success story for us. Several of our doctors have a hard stop time when they need to meet their kids after school. In the past, when they needed to rush out the door after their final appointment, they didn't have time to write up their notes. It wasn't until they were back in the office the next day, or sometimes even later, that they would get to finish. Secure remote access to the practice management software has allowed them to get those notes written up that same day while still getting time with their families. This, in turn, has reduced calls to doctors on their day off to find out information about a patient who's back in the practice but still missing notes.

The last area we experimented with was having one of our customer service team members work at home for some of their shifts. These days, internet protocol phones allow calls to be routed and picked up seamlessly even if you're not on-site. This was an area where we had mixed success. Whereas allowing customer service team members to book appointments or making outgoing compliance calls worked well, there were some tasks that were harder to perform. Our team usually stays at the front desk and communicates to other staff via page or phone, but they still missed being able to walk back and check on a patient when the tech team was busy. We tried to sort the calls so that only booking calls were routed off-site, but our clients tended to ignore the call menu and just selected the first option hoping to speak to someone. Still, this is definitely an area that we will revisit; being able to offer a part-time WFH position during our busiest hours feels like a real opportunity.

Staying Flexible Into the Future

Working from home has been popular with our team members, providing a benefit that is inexpensive for the practice to offer and that they see as real quality-of-life improvements. With the rapid development of technology, I think we are going to see more tasks becoming available to home workers. Ultimately, while telemedicine isn't ready to have doctors working exclusively from home, being able to provide a flexible work package will be an important part of recruiting and retaining a strong veterinary team.

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Des Whittall
Practice Manager

Des Whittall is an owner and manager of two veterinary clinics and pet resorts in Texas. A software engineer by training, he worked with an investment bank for 13 years in roles ranging from technical support to business divestment, managing large international teams and complex vendor relationships. With his partner, he has grown the clinics and resorts and is focused on developing businesses that can provide high-quality medicine and development opportunities for their teams.

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