From corporate behemoths to family-owned businesses, the past few months have tested us all. That said, the economy seems to be inching its way back to a slow and cautious recovery. Salons, bars, dental practices and other businesses are beginning to open.
The process of reopening won’t be without challenges, as everyone must adapt to a “new normal.” For dental practices and other high-contact service businesses, one of the biggest challenges is how to seamlessly and safely reengage their returning teams.
There are several operational, legal, financial and ethical issues that must be addressed to make the transition as smooth as possible — both for the team and patients.
As the practice owner and leader, you must acknowledge that your team will require some time and coaching to return to peak productivity. It is crucial that you help them adjust to new concerns and new protocols.
Let’s explore some ways that can help you prepare your team:
- Educate your team members about safety, and listen to their concerns.
Considering the severity of the pandemic, you should expect that your team and patients will have serious questions about health and safety. There will likely be anxiety, fear and uncertainty. It is paramount that you involve and support your team in the discussion about safety.
Provide your team members with the information they need to perform their duties properly. Prepare them to answer patient questions about changes in the practice that involve safety. Communicate often, and let them know that safety for staff and patients is your top priority. Consider emails or newsletters to communicate with patients. Not only will good communication inspire confidence and ease nerves, it will also help reinforce your approach to safety protocols.
- Adopt a collaborative approach to establishing new safety protocols.
Don’t just dump a set of guidelines and requirements on your team, as this will fuel unnecessary friction. You must listen to their concerns. Allow them to speak their minds without any fear of being judged negatively.
Don’t shy away from their questions. Address their doubts head-on, and provide honest and clear answers. Outline the risks, and let them know what they face. Use guidance from your state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Dental Association and AGD, and share that guidance with the team.
Establish basic protocols, then allow them to evolve into a set of safety guidelines that are relevant to your specific environment or practice.
Pay special attention to what your clinical team and hygienists have to say because they’ll be in constant contact with patients. Make sure there are procedures in place to keep them safe. To start off, make sure enough personal protective equipment is available for everyone. This includes masks, gloves and other equipment required by new safety protocols.
Furthermore, you need to reassess your clinic’s layout. Follow these general guidelines to make your practice safer:
- Make sure high-touch areas such as doorknobs, light switches, chairs, computer accessories, phones and credit card machines are cleaned multiple times a day.
- Get rid of sharable items in your reception area (e.g., magazines), and remove extra chairs. Consider a “wait outside” protocol for patient visits.
- Promote self-disinfection habits by providing materials for your team to regularly disinfect their workstations and close surroundings.
- Ensure distancing through visible markers, or add barriers if distancing is not an option.
- If your clinic is not on the ground floor, restrict the number of individuals who can use the elevator or stairs at a time.
- Incentivize team members.
Apart from the obvious damage, the COVID-19 crisis has been a huge mental and emotional challenge. Incentivize your team to make the reintegration process a bit easier. It will help manage pressure and, above all, give them a strong reason to actively engage in the day-to-day operations.
There are two approaches you can take here — monetary and non-monetary. Monetary incentives would, ideally, reward the entire team for achieving milestones as part of returning to work.
However, if implemented correctly, non-monetary incentives can be just as effective. Here are some ideas to consider:
- As your schedule may expand to accommodate demand, give your team flexibility in selecting hours. Are there administrative positions that can be performed while working from home?
- Give your team the chance to polish their patient service skills by enrolling them in a training program. There are affordable options out there that will help your team to enhance their skills. All-Star Dental Academy, for example, offers a range of training programs for practices of every size.
- To ease the pressure of returning to work, give them an occasional day off in addition to their annual leave.
If your practice qualified for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), you can use the funds for overtime to make up for the lost employee income. You can also direct it toward payments for vacation, health insurance premiums or retirement benefits. (Please consult your HR experts or accountants to ensure compliance with the PPP guidelines.)
- Show appreciation and gratitude.
When teams feel underappreciated, they tend to not perform their best, and an underperforming team is the quickest way to sink your practice. No amount of incentives will make up for employees who feel mistreated or undervalued. You must make a conscious effort to acknowledge the effort your team puts in day in and day out. Ensuring your team feels valued will have a direct impact on your bottom line.
As Richard Branson aptly put it: “Clients (patients) do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients (patients).”
And no, you don’t have to make grand gestures to make your team feel good. Small, genuine and consistent acts of kindness will go a long way toward nurturing a culture of passion, excellence and camaraderie.
Leaving a handwritten thank-you note at your receptionist’s desk or an email blast to the team to recognize a task done well will give a much-needed boost to your team’s confidence and motivate them to perform to the best of their ability.
You could also have a quarterly event where you recognize top performers and hand out rewards. If your state has allowed restaurants and bars to reopen, you could also take your team out on an occasional weekend brunch.
- Do a mock run before reopening.
You’re keen to reopen your practice, but don’t rush into it. Rushing to reopen will put needless pressure on your team, and clumsy preparations risk alienating patients.
Give yourself and your team at least two days to get comfortable with new protocols for post-lockdown operations. This time will help you identify potential hiccups and could save you from operational mistakes.
Do a complete practice run of each safety procedure. Finalize and practice your verbiage to address patient questions. Conduct role-playing exercises to fine-tune the verbiage. And, once you start normal operations, seek constant feedback from your patients to identify problem areas.
Lastly, understand that operations will be dynamic, and you may encounter some issues that will be ironed out as you and your team settle into the post-lockdown work routine.
Make your preparations fun.
While it is necessary to take each aspect of reopening your practice very seriously, don’t make the endeavor an ordeal for your team. The pandemic itself has been a huge trial for most of us. The last thing your team wants is a boss who is always pushing their buttons.
Keep the mood as light as possible. Encourage the development of an office support network. Share encouraging anecdotes and inspiring quotes, and throw in an occasional joke. You’ll be surprised at the difference in team morale a light and caring atmosphere will make.
I hope these six easy-to-implement ways to help get you, your team and your practice up and running are useful as you begin reopening and welcoming patients back.
Download our FREE eBook – The Roadmap to Practice Recovery. It is a collection of resources and guidance on all of the above topics as well as comprehensive recommendations on other core aspects of restarting your practice.
Alex Nottingham, JD, MBA, is founder and CEO of All-Star Dental Academy. For questions or additional information, visit allstardentalacademy.com.