01 Based on a High Street in Elgin, the practice was trading standard hours until May when we decided to extend our weekday opening hours to 7pm Monday to Friday, and 9am–5pm on a Sunday.
The key driver behind this extension was the overwhelming patient demand that we had; we were booking out almost 12 weeks in advance. Extending our hours was a way that we could improve availability from a patient perspective, but we also observed that it could bring business and team benefits too.
02 Prior to extending practice hours, we launched a consultation with all staff members that aimed to discuss and gain feedback on extending our opening hours, as well as a change in working patterns, including a four-day working week, and early and late shifts.
We have 53 staff in total so it was important to engage with everyone throughout the process because changing our hours would impact the whole team. We made sure that this was discussed fully and that the impact was understood by everyone.
We had some really good discussions. The whole team received feedback forms to fill in, as well as information on why we felt that extending our hours would provide benefits to the team, the business and our patients. Through the consultation we listened to and responded to staff, adjusting the proposal where necessary. At the end of the consultation, we opted to extend our opening hours and in doing so introduced new contract options including a four-day working week, which includes three long shifts spanning 8.30am to 7pm and one day at the weekend, as well as early and late shifts for some staff. The four-day working week is something that works particularly well for our optometrists. Those working a long shift have a one hour break during the day and can structure this in the way that suits them best. Some choose to take a 45 minute and a 15 minute break, while others take two 30 minute breaks, for example.
“The four-day working week is something that works particularly well for our optometrists”
03 At the consultation stage, if there were big objections from the team, we were fully prepared to stop moving forward with the idea as we have worked really hard to build a good team and didn’t want to create any serious issues.
Thankfully, the team came on board with the idea really quickly, and collaboratively a new flexible working contract was created. From a team point of view, the flexible working that has resulted from extending practice hours means that there is a more flexible approach to recruitment and retention. Overall, it took us around six months from the point of the first discussion with the team to actually landing it.
04 For patients, extending our hours has also brought benefits.
When you give patients a contact lens check at 6.10pm, for example, they love it as no other optician on the High Street is open at that time. Plus, as the practice works by appointments, we know what level of footfall we are expecting and how busy we may be.
In the last month, we have noticed an upsurge in walk-in trade during hours when we would have previously been closed. Word has spread and more people are aware that we are open later and pop in. When you look at the financials, we are starting to see a rise also.
“Overall, it took us around six months from the point of the first discussion with the team to actually landing it”
05 The benefits that this new approach has brought from a business perspective means that we are beginning to be able to reduce patient wait time.
We didn’t want to have to tell patients who called up or came in for a sight test that we could only book an appointment in three months’ time. We had to bring that down and as a result of extending our hours, appointment waiting times have definitely reduced. However, due to demand, we don’t envisage reducing it to less than two weeks without further change.
- As told to Emily McCormick.