How to Increase Flexibility in Veterinary Practices

I can't count how many times I've said, "We're just going to have to be flexible and figure it out," over the past few years. In my practices, flexibility has become almost a mantra—we worked out how to provide services during COVID-19 restrictions, we adjusted protocols to adapt to the doctor shortage, and we changed up our pharmacies as back orders have sprung up.

The skills we developed as we realized how to make things work have been turned into a new cornerstone in my practices; now we're focusing on how to make our working patterns more flexible, especially as an increasing number of team members are asking for more support of their quality of life outside the practice.

Here we'll dive into some of the things I've learned so far and strategies for implementing more flexibility.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

Flexibility in the workplace means different things to different people, and asking your team what they want, or need, is the first step to providing it. In our discussions, some team members asked for a later start or earlier end to their day to allow them to manage child care around school hours. Others preferred the alternative work week of four 10-hour days giving them a weekday off. While you might not be able to meet every request right away, you might be able to check some major boxes off for team members, like dropping weekend hours to give personal time back to your team. Not only is this a perk for current team members, but it's also a benefit for potential new hires.

Create Job Role Flexibility

While offering flexible work hours had benefits for my team, it also brought some challenges. In a high-touch industry like veterinary medicine, how do we change schedules while still providing great care to our patients? One key factor for me has been increasing the areas in which each team member can be deployed.

The first step for us focused on training, both working with our tech team to ensure they were able to work in as many areas of the practice as possible—then cross-training with the client service representative (CSR) team so we could more easily assign people between roles to fill gaps. With that done, we started to use our PIMS to make tasks easier, especially for those working in a position they didn't often do. For example, creating groups that drive workflow helps give the team confidence they're capturing everything they should in each situation while also improving medical consistency and charge capture.

Give Your Team Ownership

Giving your team more control doesn't just take the pressure off your management team, it also empowers team members to build the work environment that they need. A key tool I've given my teams is the option to swap a shift with someone else rather than taking time off. Our online scheduling system allows our team members to see who's working and when, so they can reach out to colleagues if they need to make a change. We allow shift swaps right up to the day of the shift, as long as the team members have similar skill levels, allowing for last-minute appointments or staying home with sick kids to be more easily accommodated.

Explore Telework Options

Remote work can provide significant flexibility benefits for everyone in your practice, even if it requires you to think outside the box a little. If your PIMS and phone system support remote access, some responsibilities such as scheduling or dealing with client calls or texts can be done away from the practice. Other jobs, like technicians or doctors, need to be on-site, but most jobs have some areas of responsibility that can be handled from home. For example, doctors and technicians may prefer to go home and then work on notes, after they've dealt with other family commitments. Client callbacks can also be made from home, especially if a doctor and CSR can be paired together to simplify scheduling appointments.

Be Transparent

While flexibility can offer team morale benefits, the proposed changes could cause anxiety for some of your team, especially if they feel they might be asked to pick up the slack for others. I've found that being transparent about what we intend to offer and how we're going to cover the gaps really helps mitigate some of the concerns. It's also important to not only treat everyone fairly but to be seen doing so. This requires consistent rule application around how you consider requests for benefits and providing clear reasons if one request is approved and another denied.

If you're ready to start exploring more flexibility throughout your practice, consider changing up work schedules, increasing training, and giving your team ownership as starting points. You might be surprised how quickly these changes can snowball into a simple balancing act that everyone can navigate.

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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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