At first glance, veterinary medicine doesn’t seem like a field that would lend itself to remote work. After all, how can you restrain pets, draw blood, and administer vaccines while working from home?
Given the rapid increase in veterinary telehealth services and cloud-based software utilization, however, remote work is more feasible than you might think. While it’s unlikely that you would ever see an entire veterinary team working fully from home, many practices could accommodate (or even benefit from) one or two home-based employees each day.
If you’re looking to incorporate remote work into your practice model, here are some dos and don’ts to get you started.
DO consider the appeal of remote work for your employees.
Most employees prefer having the option to work from home. Remote work can offer significant time and money savings to your employees, especially those employees with lengthy commutes. Remote work can also help your employees achieve better work-life balance. Instead of spending their lunch break in your employee break room, your employee can now spend time with a family member or take care of household chores on their break. Given the current veterinary labor shortage, an openness to remote work can be valuable in attracting and retaining employees.
DON’T assume that everyone wants to work from home.
While many employees love remote work, it isn’t for everyone. Some people enjoy the social interaction of in-person work, while others find it easier to maintain a work-life balance if there’s a clear delineation between work and life. Some employees may want to work from home, but don’t have a conducive home environment due to noisy neighbors, disruptive roommates, or family members with whom they share space.
Remote work is a perk for many employees, but it isn’t necessarily for everyone. Talk openly with your employees about the pros and cons of working from home, in order to determine who might benefit from remote work.
DO allow veterinarians to provide telemedicine services from home.
In many practices, telemedicine is increasingly utilized to address a variety of client concerns. Do you have enough telemedicine consultations to occupy a veterinarian for a full day, or even a half day? If so, consider allowing that veterinarian to work from home.
Cloud-based software will allow your veterinarian to enter medical notes and even print prescription labels from the comfort of their own home. Whether your existing veterinarians rotate through this role or you hire a full- or part-time veterinarian specifically to offer telemedicine consults, this approach can increase your availability to clients without the need for a hospital expansion or additional support staff.
DON’T forget about veterinary technicians and receptionists.
If you have a well-trained veterinary technician or receptionist who is interested in remote work, there are many tasks they could perform from home. Their responsibilities may include answering client emails, returning telephone calls, and handling prescription medication refill requests. Cloud-based software will allow them to easily complete these duties, and more, while working from home. Obviously, this requires a well-trained employee who is worthy of your trust, but it can be a mutually beneficial arrangement for you and your employee.
DO consider the benefits remote work can offer your practice.
While remote work offers numerous benefits for your employees, it can also benefit you. If you have an employee whose primary focus is answering client emails, coordinating telemedicine consultations, and performing other computer-based tasks, allowing that employee to work from home can free up valuable space within your practice. This can make remote work a win-win arrangement for both you and your employees.
DON’T assume that remote work is inefficient.
The pandemic forced a variety of workplaces into a remote work model, including businesses and managers that had previously been opposed to work-from-home arrangements. Fortunately, in many cases, remote work ended up going more smoothly than expected. In many cases, concerns about “slacking” were unfounded; workers are, on average, more productive when working from home. In many cases, managers’ concerns about decreased efficiency in remote workers appear to be unfounded.
DO consider the logistics of work-from-home arrangements.
Before entering into a work-from-home arrangement with a new or current employee, talk through the logistics of how the arrangement will work. Will the employee provide their own computer, or will you allow them to borrow a laptop from the practice on days that they are working from home? If the employee is making phone calls, will the practice provide a cell phone for them to use? How will you track the employee’s hours worked?
There’s no single right or wrong answer to these questions, but they are all questions you will need to think through before implementing remote work at your veterinary practice.
DON’T become rigid in your approach.
After creating a deliberate, intentional plan for remote work, it can be hard to stray from that plan. Avoid the tendency to become locked into a particular approach to remote veterinary work. Remain flexible, addressing challenges and new situations as they arise to create the best possible situation for you and your employees.
Cathy Barnette, DVM
Cathy Barnette, DVM is a veterinarian and freelance writer based in Florida. After 14 years as a small animal general practitioner, Dr. Barnette now focuses on creating educational content for veterinary teams and their clients. She shares her home with her husband, daughter, one dog, two cats, and a rescued white dove.