Many dental practices have returned to work after being furloughed for approximately two months due to Coronavirus. They have returned to their practices with new rules, new restrictions, and with new PPE or Personal Protective Equipment. Their normal routines have been disrupted with everyone on the team learning new infection control procedures, practicing new verbiage, figuring out the new procedures and using new equipment. Going through major changes like this can be unsettling, even for the most resilient individuals. In spite of this “new norm,” it’s imperative that the entire dental team continue to focus on excellence in all that they say and all that they do. Maintaining a high functioning dental team is essential to gaining and maintaining the patients’ confidence and trust in the dental practice.
So, here you are, your first week or month back to work, with your new reality that includes things like: face shields, N 95 masks, disposal gowns, hand sanitizer, air purifiers, a cleared-out reception area, pre-screening questions, and the taking of temperatures on both staff and patients. With all this new “stuff,” most teams are going to feel overwhelmed. Think about it, prior to these changes, you had comfortable routines, your procedures flowed effortlessly, and often without thought. Now… everything is cumbersome, confusing, and unfamiliar. Remember the uneasiness you felt the first time you moved to a new city. For the first few months, as you drove around the city, you probably got lost on many occasions. But eventually, over time, maneuvering around the city became easier as the roads became more familiar as you figured your “way around town.” The same type of experience holds true for the new protocols in your dental office. As you set out to master them, at first, you will feel awkward. These unfamiliar procedures will take up more of your time, more of your focus, and more of your energy, leaving you feeling exhausted at the end of the day. Here’s another driving analogy. Remember the first time you tried to parallel park your car? Remember how awkward it felt? Remember, how many times it took before it became automatic for you? For some, learning to parallel park only took a few weeks, for some, a few months, and for others… well, they’re still trying to figure it out. Similar to this example, it’s important to understand that new routines require additional time to learn and even more time to master; and the rate at which one learns will be different for each individual. There is no standard timetable as to when the new skills will be mastered and become automatic. Everyone will learn at a different pace.
As everyone focuses and adapts to learning the new procedures and adjusts to the many changes, expect that there will be stress in the office. Patience, empathy, and good communication will be needed on everyone’s part. You gain those virtues by focusing on a different set of PPE, “People, Protocols, and Excellence.”
When I talk about “People,” I’m referring to your patients and your dental team. With regard to your patients, you want to be sure that your conversations are positive and informative. As you communicate, try to visualize your words through the eyes of your patients. You want to make sure to carefully listen to their questions and concerns. Be sure to share often with your patients that “their safety” is your number one concern. Express how glad you are to see them. Show them your new equipment and explain how your new protocols and protective gear are going to keep them safe. Be proactive and “keep in front” of the conversations. Ask them how they are feeling. Ask them if they have any questions about safety or the changes they are seeing. Let them know how you are following the latest guidelines from your State, the ADA, OSHA, and the CDC. At all times, keep your interactions upbeat and focused on making your patients feel safe.
The second group of “People” you need to nurture in your practice are your individual team members. As you adjust to this “new norm,” I recommend that you check in with each of them daily. Your first thought might be, “I don’t have time to do that.” My reply to you is, “Make the time!” Instead of going into your office between patients, talk with your team members in the hallway, in the staff room, or when they’re in-between patients. You can have quick 30 second check-ins by simply by asking, “How are you doing?” or “Is there anything I can do to help you?” And most importantly, make sure you listen to their reply. Frequently communicating with them builds trust. Now, more than ever, your team needs you to be the leader of your office. Your team needs you to help them be a cohesive and unified group so that they’re able to make your patients will feel comfortable and secure.
How else can you maintain a unified team? Have a one-hour team meeting each week, to provide the opportunity for your team members to voice their ideas, their concerns, and their suggestions. During this time of COVID-19, new information will arise rapidly and will need to be shared. New supplies will need to be purchased and new protocols will need to be tweaked. With the bombardment of all this information, it’s important to keep your meetings streamlined, timely, simple, and fun. Have an agenda and ask general questions like, “What went well this week? What didn’t go so well? What changes do you think we need to make for things to go more smoothly?” Most importantly, in the midst of those discussions, be sure to recognize and celebrate your successes.
Another important reason to have weekly team meetings is to have a place to resolve conflict. As everyone adapts to the new working conditions, with the new protocols, and with the cumbersome PPE, expect people to feel stressed and expect conflict to occur. Having weekly staff meetings can be the ideal place for constructive dialogue that “clears the air.” Make your practice a place that is filled with grace and one that is absent of judgment. Provide opportunities for your team members to openly and honestly share what’s on their hearts. Resolving interpersonal conflict quickly is essential to maintaining the cohesiveness of your team, which is crucial to maintaining the confidence and trust of your patients.
And amongst all of this, embrace excellence. Do it for your sake, and do it for the sake of your patients. Make sure that the verbal messages you and your team are sending are clear and the same throughout your practice. The best way to do that is to role-play and practice what you want to say for different situations. Nothing destroys trust faster than an office and a team that is unhappy, inefficient, and sending inconsistent messages.
In summary, remember to keep your primary focus on your relationships and on excellence. Remember that these times are stressful for everyone. And remember to extend grace, focus on reconciliation, and being the very best you can be. Today, focus more on good communication and less on the practice numbers. Continue to manage your schedule and your collections well; but expect that your numbers will be lower for a while. As your new protocols become second nature and you become more efficient, your practice numbers will start to rise. For now, do all that you can to make your patients feel safe and do all you can to keep your team feeling motivated, unified, confident, and happy. It’ll be the key to your happiness, and it will be the key to your long-term financial success.