Episode 9 | Flexible Working in Veterinary, a pipe dream or reality?

author

Jack Peploe
Veterinary IT Expert
June 29, 2021

Topics

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In this week’s episode

  • How do you feel about flexible working in the veterinary sector? Do you even know what it might look like if applied at your practice?  Perhaps you've heard mutterings about it in the staff room but are unsure how to get started?  If these are questions you've been thinking about recently then this episode is for you…
  • This week we welcome Silvia Janska, founder and CEO of Flexee, to the Modern Veterinary Podcast to discuss flexible working, who wants it, what it looks like and whether COVID has encouraged a change in the veterinary industry 
  • Plus on the show this week, Jack talks about Google My Business, one of the simplest and most effective ways of setting your business up to be found online.

Show Notes

  • Out every other week on your favourite podcast platform.
  • Presented by Jack Peploe: Veterinary IT Expert, Certified Ethical Hacker and dog Dad to the adorable Puffin.
  • Jack introduced Google My Business and explained why all veterinary practcies shoud be making the most of all it has to offer. 
  • Jack’s special guest was Silvia Janska, founder and CEO of Flexee, who spoke to us about to the flexible working.
  • Many thanks to Amy Spyrou from EzyVet for recommending our book of the week "Memoirs of a Geisha".
  • In our next episode Jack will be welcoming back Matthew Flann from Pennard Vets who will be talking to us about turning his practice into an Employee Owned Trust.
  • Please send any questions, ideally in audio-form (or any other feedback) to jack@veterinaryit.services.

Transcription

Jack Peploe:
Coming up on Modern Veterinary Practice.

Silvia Janska:
The employers were very open-minded about this, but they just didn't sort of know how to implement it, and everybody needs flexible working to some extent, but there needs to be sort of a two-way flexibility, sort of a give and take approach between the employer and employee to make it work.

Jack Peploe:
Welcome to Modern Veterinary Practice. I'm your host and veterinary IT expert, Jack Peploe. In this week's episode, I'll be talking to Silvia Janska, founder, and CEO of Flexee about flexible working, who wants it, what it looks like, and whether COVID has encouraged a change in the veterinary industry. I'll also talk about Google My Business, one of the simplest and most effective ways of getting your business up to be found online.

Jack Peploe:
Have you set up a Google My Business page for your veterinary practice? If the answer to this is no, then it's time to get to work. Setting up your Google My Business listing is one of the simplest and most effective ways of ensuring that your practice is easy to find online. Once complete, it gives you the power to attract and engage customers when they search for your practice on Google. The profile you create will ensure that you appear in Google searches and maps. It will also allow you to respond to any Google reviews you might have and post photos of your products or special offers.

Jack Peploe:
A word of warning though. You will need to keep your profile up to date with the correct details such as telephone numbers, addresses, and opening hours. This is because Google makes regular changes to its algorithms, meaning that if you want your practice to appear in local searches, you will need to be optimizing it on a regular basis. Essentially, by setting up your Google My Business page, your practice will appear on Google searches for local veterinary practices with your contact details and other business information readily available without the person searching having to go onto your webpage. You'll even be able to use the Google My Business dashboard to gain key insights on your audience and local search performance. In the analytics tab of the platform, you can even see the queries customers are using to find your business profile. So, don't delay. Get on and update or set up your veterinary practice's profile.

Voiceover:
The interview.

Silvia Janska:
Hello everyone. Well, thank you for having me on this podcast. I'm extremely excited to be here. So, my name is Silvia Janska. I have a background in research. I did a bachelors in veterinary science and a master's in wild animal biology prior to getting my vet degree from the RVC. After I graduated, I completed an equine internship and obtained my certificate in veterinary business management from University of Liverpool. I have worked in clinics up until now, and I still do, more as a locuming rather than full-time, just because of corona, everything that's been happening. But for the past year or so, I've developed a bit of a portfolio career working, as I said, as an ambulatory equine vet, but also consulting within the animal health industry.

Silvia Janska:
So, I have my own consultancy, particularly looking at pet startups from America wanting to enter the European market. And I'm also running two of my own startups, Flexee, which is all about flexible working because that's what I'm extremely passionate about, and I think that's what the podcast will be about today. And secondly, another one, looking into sort of small animal and the pet sector, and as a sort of another fun thing on the side, so the volunteer thing, I'm on a SPVS board member and also a member of the Greener Veterinary Practice working group for Vet Sustain. And I think that's me in a nutshell.

Jack Peploe:
Hi, Silvia. That is quite a variety there. You're a very, very busy person. Welcome to the Modern Veterinary Practice podcast. I'm obviously really excited to have you on today. How are you?

Silvia Janska:
Busy as you said, but it's fantastic. No, I couldn't be better, and I think for me, the COVID pandemic was one of my most productive times.

Jack Peploe:
I bet, I bet. Quite an opportunity in a way. So, as you mentioned today, we're going to be talking about flexible working in the veterinary sector, a subject that obviously I find fascinating myself. Now, it's been around in other sectors for quite some time now, but it's not necessarily a way of working that you'd associate with veterinary. How did you first become interested in the subject, out of interest?

Silvia Janska:
Yeah, no, of course. It sort of started a couple of years ago really, and it came from a very personal need, and both me and my business partner, Jessica May, we realized that the permanent employees needed a bit more flexibility. So, let me just clarify. When we are talking about flexible working, I'm talking about permanent veterinary staff, not locums, and how can we provide and implement flexible working for the permanent employees. And so, yeah, it just started from a personal need, and I started talking to other vets, other peers and found out that quite a lot of employees were seeking exactly what I was seeking. Obviously, it's not just about the employee. So, then I started talking to veterinary employers across the different vet practices and very quickly found out that they were actually very keen to implement more flexibility in their practice. They just didn't know how to make it beneficial for the employee and for the business and to maintain a happy team.

Silvia Janska:
And so, that really became sort of the core reason why I wanted to research this and see how can we achieve exactly this, benefit all sort of three areas, and obviously, also from the sort of the practice needs. The practice really needs to be able to retain its staff and retain happy staff, reduce the levels of stress, actually reducing levels of stress was a top priority from the Vet Futures project in 2015 I believe. Could flexibility help reduce this stress? And also, from the sort of the industry need because obviously, we have a huge feminization in the industry and currently more female vets work flexibly than male vets, but that is because there is an increasing number of female vets in the industry. But on the other hand, for example, the highest increase in part-time working was seen in the male vet population in the past 10 years.

Jack Peploe:
Oh wow.

Silvia Janska:
It's just interesting sort of changes within the industry as well. Although it originated from a personal need, I think it's very important for the practice and for the whole industry.

Jack Peploe:
Yeah. No, absolutely. Now, flexible working can mean different things to different people. Can you explain what you mean when you talk about flexible working and how that looks when applied to veterinary?

Silvia Janska:
Yeah. No, you're absolutely right. So, flexible working is described typically as a type of working arrangement that gives a degree of flexibility on how long, where, and when, and at what times an employee works. Now, in other sectors, an employee might be allowed to or able to fully work fully remotely, or just through telemedicine, et cetera. And so, I think it's extremely important to clarify that what we mean by flexible working does not equate remote working or remote prescribing or telemedicine or part-time because those are the sort of things that usually we associated flexible working with. But actually, there is about 15 different ways you can work flexibly that are defined by the UK government. Flexible working for the vet industry is different in a way because obviously, what is the profession, we have to physically be there with the animal. It's just finding ways to allow certain give and take flexibilities for the employee, but also so that it fits with the employer.

Jack Peploe:
Yeah, I think you're going to have to come up with your own term.

Silvia Janska:
I'll think about that.

Jack Peploe:
Now, it's a bit of an obvious question, but I'm sure there'll be areas we may not have considered, but what are the advantages to flexible working? You mentioned some, but can you give me a quick summary?

Silvia Janska:
Oh my goodness. There is a lot, and I think there are some that are very, very obvious, some that are less so. So, for example, one of the things I mentioned at the beginning that I've been researching this space for the past two years, and part of that research, we run a industry-wide flexible working survey which had over 500 responses, and we also interviewed numerous employers and employees, and on top of that, we partnered up with Timewise, which is the UK's largest flexible working consultancy so we have a lot of background in this.

Silvia Janska:
But talking about benefits specifically, I can tell you from our survey, from the Flexee survey, both employers and employees saw that the biggest benefit of flexible working was that it attracts and retains staff at vet practices. Second largest benefit was that it boosts wellbeing, autonomy, and morale for the individual. Then the next ones were sort of a bit less, I'm sort of going down the graph, that it increases commitment to the team, that it increases commitment to the practice, and increases motivation for the job. From my interviews, some employers were saying that actually during COVID when they had to change the way they work and so gave a bit more autonomy to their employees, then the productivity actually increased rather than decreased, although there was that worry of okay, I guess if I give more flexibility, they'll sort of do what they want, but actually, I had a lot of employers, particularly farm animal employers told me the exact opposite which is quite interesting. So, yeah, those are some of the... So, I guess in a bigger nutshell, you can sort of say it helps improve workplace culture and retains staff.

Jack Peploe:
Yeah. No, which is what the industry really needs so that's great. Would you say that you're generally met with enthusiasm from everyone who you speak to about flexible working or is it just the vets, vet nurses, and receptionists who are keen whilst the practice managers and owners look at you with panic in their eyes?

Silvia Janska:
No. Yeah, well, I think as I said before, of course, because it came from me as an employee, I've spoken to a lot of employees and as I said, I then started speaking to a lot of the employers as well. And it wasn't, I mean, the employers were very open-minded about this, but they just didn't sort of know how to implement it, and everybody needs flexible working to some extent, but there needs to be sort of a two-way flexibility, sort of a give and take approach between the employer and employee to make it work. Right?

Jack Peploe:
Yes.

Silvia Janska:
And so, again, just another interesting statistic from our survey, actually, a third of the employers who answered the survey consider it a high or very high priority to find ways of implementing flexible working in their practice.

Jack Peploe:
That's fantastic.

Silvia Janska:
So yeah, absolutely. It's not that it's not sort of met with enthusiasm. It's just everybody seemed to want it, but they just don't really know how-

Jack Peploe:
How to go about it.

Silvia Janska:
...and oftentimes, a lot of practices, probably majority of practices I've come across actually tried to implement it, failed for whatever reason, and that's what our work was. We were trying to analyze where they have gone wrong, but then they were obviously much more sort of disheartened and cynical to try something new again the next time. So, that's where sort of one of the barriers lies, yeah.

Jack Peploe:
No, that's cool. And is there a particular demographic that shows more interest to flexible working?

Silvia Janska:
Well, depends what you mean, from the employees or employers, but not necessarily. I mean, from our survey, actually, it was more of the over forties that were seeking flexible working. So, oftentimes, we talk about millennials and we talk about female vets. You kind of have to look at the bigger picture. Of course, more vets are working flexibly or will want to because the professional has more female vets in the first place. Of course, it is the woman who needs to, for example, have the child, et cetera. But as I said, the highest increase percentage-wise in part-time working in the past 10 years has been seen in the male vet population rather than the female vet population. You kind of have to look at it a bit sort of generically rather than just sort of pick on one demographic, and yeah. Yeah.

Jack Peploe:
No, that's cool. And why, in your opinion, is there not a mass adoption of veterinary practices implementing flexible working? What would you say the common challenges are?

Silvia Janska:
So, I mean the number one challenge, number one barrier, again, that the survey highlighted and obviously a lot of the interview is, and actually both employers and employees in the vet practices believed that the two highest most significant barriers is the increased hassle, and the complexity of rotas that flexible working would bring with it. I mean, vet rotas are already complex. So, if you then start sort of adding different flexibilities for different people, well, they're afraid that it would sort of-

Jack Peploe:
Over-complicate.

Silvia Janska:
... over-complicate things, absolutely. And the second biggest barrier is the difficulty in setting boundaries and ensuring fairness for the whole team. So, I think the practices are already really busy places. So, the risk of upsetting the status quo is just too high.

Jack Peploe:
Yeah, because I mean, obviously, would that be a concern that people would be taking advantage of the system as well, especially when it can't be fully monitored as such? Because I expect that there aren't really any very good rota management systems out there that kind of can help tackle this problem at the moment.

Silvia Janska:
Yes. And that's another thing that we're looking into. As I said, you need to follow a process even before you start seeking the solutions to what kind of flexibilities does your business, your practice needs and what can you offer to the employees. So, it's number one thing, you have to do a sufficient market analysis for your business, but then as you said, once you do that and once you know what you can and can't allow, even flexible working needs to be managed. So far, everybody we've spoken to exactly, they've tried and tested a few different rota management systems, but they're not exactly looking into flexible working. They're only looking into rotas. So, there isn't anything that kind of emerges that kind of allows the kind of two-way flexibility communication. Everything seems to be happening on WhatsApp or the internal practice management system.

Jack Peploe:
So, Silvia, big question, but what are the key things people can take away in relation to remote work?

Silvia Janska:
Yeah, well, I think, as I said, the sort of key takeaways really is that flexible working requires flexibility from both sides, the employer and the employee. It needs to follow a process before the practices are actually seeking solutions, rather than what they're doing now is just implementing reactive solutions to what the employees are requesting. A lot of the clinics are doing insufficient market analysis for their business to know what the sort of solutions can and shouldn't be. And another major thing is that flexible working needs to be managed, otherwise it's just ad hoc, and all of that takes good communication, good, open, regular, honest communication, and ensuring that the opportunities are the same for the whole team. And when I say opportunities, I don't mean the same flexibility needs to be implemented for each individual, like the whole practice does a four-day compressed working week or something. What I'm saying is the chance to voice what they need, the choices need to be sort of uniform. The opportunities need to be uniform. Yeah.

Jack Peploe:
And I suppose kind of going into... we're hopefully coming out of the coronavirus pandemic now, but do you think that there's been wider acceptance of flexible working in the last year due to the pandemic itself?

Silvia Janska:
The conversation has absolutely grown because we were forced to work differently. So, we had to implement some flexibility, even though it's potentially not the kind of flexibility we want to carry forward in normal times, but it has created sort of a space for conversation, and I suppose that's why there's been a lot of interest. Also, I keep getting invitations for podcasts like yours and speak at conferences, and I've had a few veterinary employers contacting me asking exactly that. "So, you've been researching this for the past two years. So, the practices that are implementing flexible working, how did they make it work?" So, that's why from the back of that, we've created Flexee as the consultancy service because there seems to be an interest now coming out of the pandemic of sort of trying to do things a bit differently moving forward. So, it's all about kind of creating a good roadmap for the next steps to make flexible working work and make it sustainable for the individual, the business, and the team because you can't just have one of those things.

Jack Peploe:
Yeah. No, that's perfect, and I'm glad you've mentioned it. You've obviously said that you're working with your colleague, Jessica May, on a project called Flexee and that's F-L-E-X-E-E for those listening. Can you tell me a bit about it and what we can expect from you guys in the foreseeable future?

Silvia Janska:
Yes, absolutely. So, as I said earlier, we've partnered up with Timewise, which is the UK's largest flexible working consultancy, and the reason why we partnered up obviously is because they're the pros in flexible working overall, and they've been doing this for many more years than just what we've been doing. But again, we are on the other side, sort of the pros when it comes to flexible working specifically in our industry because it's come our initiative, and it was initially an initiative. It's now a proper company, but it came from vets, right, and we're trying to help the industry sort of from within.

Silvia Janska:
But as I said, there needs to be a bit of a process to finding out what flexibilities, even the practice, the business, and the practice can allow because this is where a lot of the practices seem to be going wrong, that they kind of allow reactively what the employees are asking for without really looking at the business overall. So, what we do as Flexee, we sort of come in, try and understand the unique clinic landscape, trying to design evidence-based solutions, then we sort of support in the implementing and piloting of the flexible working strategy, and obviously, then you have to monitor the progress to see if it's working, if the staff and the team is satisfied, if the business is successful.

Jack Peploe:
No, it's exciting. Well, it's been great talking to you, Silvia. If our listeners want to learn more about the work you're doing at Flexee, where can they find out more information?

Silvia Janska:
We do have a website. It is being edited at the moment, but it's www.flexee, with the double E at the end, .vet, V-E-T. And if not there, then I'm very approachable. People can find me on LinkedIn, the same as Jessica May.

Jack Peploe:
Fantastic. Well, thank you so much, Silvia. I really appreciate your time.

Silvia Janska:
Thank you very much. No, this was great fun. I hope it will be useful for the listeners as well.

Jack Peploe:
Oh, I a hundred percent think it will.

Voiceover:
Recommended reading.

Jack Peploe:
Every week we ask veterinary professionals and experts to suggest a best business book for our listeners. This week's recommendation is from ezyVet's Amy Spyrou.

Amy Spyrou:
I really liked Memoirs of a Geisha. It's a novel by Arthur Golden and it's just beautiful, really. It's a fiction novel, but it tells a story of a functional geisha in Kyoto, and it's just really interesting, very loving, very calm, but also there's a little bit of sadness to it as well. I don't know. I just generally related to it, and I recommend the read if you're by a pool somewhere with a cocktail.

Jack Peploe:
Coming up next week, we welcome back the wonderful Matthew Flann from Pennard Vets. After his last visit, we just had to get him back to talk about their incredible decision to become an employee-owned trust.

Matthew Flann:
The traditional routes of succession weren't really viable anymore. We really wanted to remain independent. We wanted to leave a sustainable business and think employee ownership lends itself to a sustainable business structure.

Jack Peploe:
That's it for this episode. All links and recommendations we talked about are in the show notes. Don't forget to subscribe and share the podcast if you found it useful. In the meantime, thanks for listening, and see you next time.