Investing in staff development during COVID

| February 7, 2022

At a time when many businesses were struggling to stay afloat, it might be difficult to believe that regularly closing our doors has been a key driver to our growth and success, but it’s true.

It’s so easy as a business owner to get caught up in day-to-day operations, but it was through the disruptions of the global pandemic that an opportunity to re-focus and develop our staff presented itself – a focus that led to several unexpected benefits.

2020 threw up several challenges for our two optometry practices, including having to close our doors for several weeks at the height of coronavirus restrictions.

In a bid to keep our staff employed, and engaged, we used this time to focus on training.

Such was the improvement in our staff group during that time, that when we were eventually allowed to reopen, we made the decision to continue regular training sessions – during office hours – for the overall benefit of the business.

We now come together as a group once a month, paying staff to attend training workshops for the morning, and not taking on clients until the afternoon.

The training isn’t always optometry-focused, with the sessions also delving into areas of personal growth and self-improvement.

The return on investment has been better than we could have ever anticipated, providing a boost to our business that outweighs any perceived loss of income by not seeing patients for those hours.

It’s the kind of success that can’t always be immediately seen on the balance sheet, but becomes apparent over time;

  • Increased Staff Engagement: Regular training has created a more engaged team, keen to put newly learned techniques into practice. Staff are also able to identify areas of the business they’d like to learn and move into, creating opportunities for personal growth.
  • Workplace Culture: Whilst our workplace culture was already strong and positive, having staff split over two practices did present challenges in developing a unified team. Since the regular training sessions began, staff have come together to create a social club, and the culture has become one of unity rather than being split by workplace locations.
  • Consistency and Cost Efficiencies: Our regular sessions have provided a forum for staff to brainstorm ideas to problems and challenges being experienced at both practices. It’s allowed for greater consistency in how staff operate, and also generated cost efficiencies for the business.
  • Improved Communication: The regular coming together of staff allows for improved communication of business ideas to employees, but also provides the opportunity for staff to offer feedback and suggestions to us as owner/operators. We’re acutely aware that we don’t have all the answers, and some of our best ideas for growth have come from all-staff discussions.

Continued learning and education is at the forefront of our business strategy, however the pandemic was the forced reminder that regular training sessions needed to be a priority, rather than pushed to the side.

We’ve also recently been reminded that we already have access to a wealth of knowledge within our staff themselves.

Our most experienced paediatric optometrist Karen Miller broke her wrist and is currently unable to see patients, however we’ve been able to keep her at work in a mentoring role, sharing her experience and vast industry knowledge with the rest of the team.

It highlights that there’s always opportunity, even in the most unfortunate of circumstances.

As we look to continue and expand on our training sessions in the New Year, it’s easy for me to claim success. However, I think the most important measure of success is feedback from the staff themselves.

Karen has told me the training sessions have assisted not only her self-development, but also her relationships with other members of the team.

“We all have different areas of interest, so it is wonderful to learn from the rest of the team and have the time to ask questions and discuss ideas.”

“Having less patient contact time while my wrist heals has also allowed me to work closely with our Vision Therapist, which has been rewarding for us both as we bounce ideas off each other, discuss cases and develop future programs.”

“I am grateful to work with employers who respect us as individuals and who value our development.”

There are many aspects of business that are difficult to get right. However, in returning to the basics of providing strong foundations for our staff to grow, learn and develop, our business has also done the same, and we look forward to continuing on the journey as a team in 2022.


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