Spotlight on Drove Vets

Danielle Bowers, lead client care associate at The Drove Veterinary Hospital
Kayleigh Walker, lead client care associate at Drove Vets Stratton

Following on from our incredible panel discussion at SPVS on Flexible Working – learnings from Jigsaw Practices, we chatted to the lovely Danielle Bowers and Kayleigh Walker from Drove Vets about their “floating receptionist” system. 

A jigsaw arrangement  is one where the majority of employees work non-standard working hours. The model is increasingly becoming one of the most popular manifestations of workplace flexibility in UK veterinary practices. 

We discussed how their jigsaw practice operates, the benefits, the barriers and what it takes to implement the model successfully. Our discussion highlighted the importance of flexible working practice wide, not just within clinical roles. 

Drove Vets is a large, independent, mixed practice, with 6 branches. They have over 100 team members in total, including 35 veterinary receptionists, spread across 6 sites. Drove Vets are also a member of the XL Vet Group.

Danielle Bowers, the lead client care associate at The Drove Veterinary Hospital, has 7 year’s experience at Drove Vets. She is also a British Veterinary Receptionist Association (BVRA) council member. 

Kayleigh Walker, the lead client care associate at Drove Vets Stratton, has worked at Drove Vets for 8 years. She is currently junior vice president of the BVRA and will be taking over the role of President in March.  

What does “jigsaw” look like in your practice?

We have 35 receptionists across all sites, 3 of which we refer to as “floating receptionists”. The working patterns of all of our receptionists are extremely varied, with almost all being different from one other. We have everything ranging from part time, full time and weekend only roles, spread across all of our sites. We have staff that start at 7:30am, those that finish at 08:00pm and everything in between. We aim to adapt our roles over time by regularly speaking with our team members, then adjust their shift timings to benefit them, the team and the practice. 

The “floating receptionists” are not situated at any particular site, but able to fill any of our receptionists’ roles to cover holiday, sickness and any other needs. We have one full time float receptionist and two part time float receptionists. The ‘floating’ roles enable those who can’t work fixed hours to have the option of a varied shift pattern allocated 6-8 weeks in advance. For example, we have some floating receptionists who have shifts on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, opposite to floating receptionists who are allocated shifts on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. With these additional team members, we are able to increase flexibility for both the floating receptionists and the receptionists based permanently at sites. 

Mainly a mix of full time and part time roles, we increase flexibility by having 3 ‘float receptionists’. These members are not situated at any particular site, but able to fill any of our receptionists’ roles to cover holiday, sickness and any other needs. We have one full time float receptionist and two part time float receptionists.

Who these apply to e.g. just vets/receptionists, everyone

This model applies currently only with our reception team.

How long have you had these arrangements in place? How/when did it start?

A ‘floating receptionist’ has been a role we’ve had in place for over 10 years, (before Dani and Kayleigh’s time at Drove), but has been adapted over the last few years to better fit business needs as well as our team members’ needs.

What role do you play (in managing/supporting the jigsaw arrangements)?

Kayleigh ensures that all receptionists are sent regular rota updates and that our floating receptionists have at least 6 week’s worth of rota’s so they are able to plan and organise. We both manage holiday requests as well as medical appointment requests and bereavement leave etc. This means we can continuously monitor the rota to ensure that we are able to keep all roles covered at all sites.

Both Kayleigh and I are responsible for managing any staff changes, advertising any upcoming roles, interviewing candidates and training new team members.

We also carry out regular ‘1-1’ meetings with all receptionist team members. These are a casual and private catch up giving each team member some time and safe space to discuss if there is anything they need from us as employers and a business.

This way, we can be proactive with our team, increase flexibility when needed and build staff retention, increasing both teamwork and efficiency.

Why did the practice move in this direction – what were the drivers?

There were two main drivers for us to support, encourage and adapt our ‘floating’ roles. These were staff retention and recruitment.

Finding suitable candidates, who could commit to set days and hours to suit the business needs, decreased our candidate list. It meant we often had to overlook applicants that had valuable veterinary receptionist experience, in favour of those who were able to commit to the time we needed. We found this increased the number of new team members leaving as the role requires more skill than they anticipated.

The role of a vet receptionist can take years of experience to master, in a fast-paced environment. It requires a multitude of skills and vast knowledge, usually impossible to learn in the time given by most practices for training. We have found it to be far more beneficial for the practice and team, to work with our receptionists needs, including flexibility where possible.

"we are more conscious of the need for flexibility and its consideration when planning rotas or hiring new team members."

Was it a conscious decision or did it just emerge this way?

The role of a floating receptionist was in place before we joined the practice, in order to cover holidays and sickness within the team. It was not however utilised or adapted to increase flexibility until the last few years.

We first started to think about it when we were asked to adapt a role by one of our receptionists, who needed greater flexibility, a few years ago. Since then, we are more conscious of the need for flexibility and its consideration when planning rotas or hiring new team members.

(If this was a conscious change) how was the idea introduced/”sold” into the practice? Did you play a part in this?

When we discussed adapting the floating role for the first time, we found management were apprehensive. They were worried about the possible impacts on the business and the rest of the veterinary reception team. Upon further discussion, management agreed to let us take the risk. Since then, we have been given more freedom and have been able to make positive changes, encouraging flexibility for as many team members as required. By doing this, we have built a fantastic, strong team of loyal veterinary receptionists, with different skill sets and assets that they bring to the practice.

What hurdles did you/others have to overcome to get buy-in/traction?

Our biggest hurdle was when we first started to make changes, there was some animosity and jealousy from other team members. They felt they were not as valued, as we were making changes for a team member that had not been offered previously.

This made us realise that there were other team members who desired some form of flexibility but might not have felt comfortable or psychologically safe enough to raise it with their line manager. We overcame this by organising regular ‘1-1’ catch ups with every one of our receptionists and encouraging them to be upfront and honest about their needs.

"Sourcing new team members has been easier"

What are the lessons learned from the change process/journey (to jigsaw arrangement/greater flexibility)

Communicate with the other members in the team and encourage them to speak up about their flexibility needs.

Staff retention is important. Work with your employees to see how you can best match their needs, as well as the business.

Encouraging flexibility can boost morale and have a positive impact on the team. It does this by improving work life balance and making individual team members feel valued by the business. 

Sourcing new team members has been easier and we have found that most have now become loyal members of the team.

We’ve seen increased engagement from team members at work as they now have a better work life balance.

Tell us about some of the practicalities of running a jigsaw arrangement e.g. rota management, replacing a leaver who had a very particular work pattern, any extra costs involved

Rota management can be tricky with ‘float receptionists’, especially if there are no holidays to cover. Our floating receptionists have contracts that require them to work a certain number of hours per week. We have occasionally found it difficult to fulfil their contracted hours but have overcome this by allowing other team members more flexibility. They use this time to carry out admin tasks, CPD training and any other jobs you are unable to work on at a busy reception desk.

When we first adapted the float role, we split one of the full time roles into two part time roles, without increasing the number of hours the business already agreed to pay for. The only extra costs the business had to consider was for uniform, training and fuel cost if travelling between branches. We were fortunate that our directors saw the value in retaining one of our existing floating veterinary receptionists, by adapting these hours and employing another team member to take on some of their contracted hours.

To continue to support flexible working within our team, we have had to increase the number of team members employed, which meant an additional cost for the business. However, adding another receptionist has had a positive impact on team morale, reduced burnout within the team, reduced overtime costs to the business and increased efficiency. All of which has positively impacted our clients and their journey in practice.

Is there anything in hindsight you’d wished you’d done differently? Is there anything you would like to change about the set-up now you’ve experienced it?

We wish we’d have done it sooner! We have built a strong, loyal team after losing too many valued members due to hurdles that we have overcome with increased flexibility. 

Our system works well for us, especially now we have four ‘team leaders’ who are all given time for administration tasks. We are able to spend valuable time improving processes and making positive changes for both the team and the practice. We have also been able to grow the skill sets of some of our other team members by giving them additional responsibilities, as well as the time and support to complete them.

Have you seen tangible benefits from operating this way? And drawbacks?

The number of receptionists who are now completing valuable CPD training has increased, benefitting both the practice and the clients with their improved skill sets and knowledge.

Staff turnover has decreased with more team members choosing to stay a part of the team.

Saved money as overtime reduced, with more shifts covered

Increased productivity, teamwork and culture. 

One of the only drawbacks from having floating receptionists, who need a rota 6 weeks in advance, is that any annual leave needs to be booked in early. It can be tricky trying to amend rotas once all team members have been accounted for. Although, with the added man power of floating receptionists, we are usually able to accommodate any urgent leave when needed.

The SPVS Congress theme this year was “Smarter Working: Better Outcomes”, how much would you say your Jigsaw arrangement contributes to this for your practice?

Our jigsaw arrangement helps our reception team to feel valued and allows them to have an increased work life balance. By adapting hours and slightly increasing the number of team members, we have formed a strong and skilled reception team, which is now being recognised by other teams in practice, as well as our clients. 

Our reception teams’ skills are now better utilised as we have reduced the time barriers in practice with our extra team members. This has meant our receptionists can take on more responsibilities, freeing up time for our clinical team members to focus on more important tasks and improve job satisfaction.

What’s next? i.e. any further ambitions for jigsaw or flexible working in your practice

To continue being proactive with flexible working and encouraging team members to confidently discuss their needs.

We’d love to see this technique utilised in other departments and by working closely with our clinical team leaders, we can support them with any changes they make.

What’s your one top tip for any practices looking to introduce or expand a Jigsaw arrangement.

Communicate with your team! Listen to their suggestions with an open mind, even if you can’t fulfil their suggestions, you may be able to compromise and reach a middle ground that benefits all involved.

Have regular informal meetings with individual team members. Build a relationship with your team to encourage the most truthful responses. Make sure they feel psychologically safe.

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