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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor January 17, 2007 - Tip #261 
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Office Design with Staff in Mind

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Additional Information

Attracting good employees, maintaining high staff morale and reducing turnover are important goals for owners and managers of eye care practices. You simply can't build a great practice without a great staff. Human resource issues are often described as the most challenging of all practice management duties. The office culture that leads to a high level of job satisfaction for employees is made up of many diverse and complex factors, but many of them begin with office design.

The design of an eye care office is generally determined when the space is initially built out. The practice owner, a designer or architect and a contractor collaborate and draw up a floor plan. Since office space is limited, rooms and features are selected and prioritized based on function and importance. Even with the best design effort, most offices evolve and change after the tenant moves in.

Whether you are considering a minor office update, a major remodel, a new addition or a completely new location, be sure to consider the spaces that are devoted to staff. Here are some ideas to consider, some of which require very little square footage, but go a long way toward making the office a pleasant and efficient environment for employees.
  • Technician workstation. Ideally located in the center of the examination area, this is a desk or counter with a computer and phone. Technicians can be available to assist the doctor, manage contact lens orders for patients, schedule appointments, make follow-up phone calls, arrange referrals, work with pharmacists and a host of other duties. Sometimes a wide section of a hallway is sufficient, or this area could be built into a contact lens laboratory and inventory room.

  • Business office. This generally serves as the receptionist's area. The room may have a counter that interfaces with the waiting area and an inner counter for patient checkout and appointment scheduling. Consider the number of people who may work in this area at once and have enough phones and computers for all.

  • Administrative area. This behind the scenes area may include a desk for the insurance coordinator and also serve as a space to take care of printing and mailing projects. A private office for an office manager can be located here if space permits. More and more offices are using an out-of-sight dedicated phone desk that handles all incoming calls, schedules appointments, and makes many outgoing calls, so the receptionist does not have to be distracted from patient service.

  • Optical lab. I believe in having room for lens finishing equipment, but if you dispense you need a space to adjust eyewear, make repairs, place orders and check on job status. I like having a window so staff can see the frame area and patients can see the workings of the lab (as long as it is kept clean). This room often doubles for other purposes mentioned in this article.

  • Staff lounge. It may seem like a luxury in smaller offices, but having a place to eat lunch or take care of personal issues before and after work is an amenity that employees love. Consider having a television, refrigerator, microwave, sink and even vending machines. This room can double as a conference room and a large table works great for staff meetings.

  • Staff restroom. A washroom dedicated just for staff, with cabinets for storing some personal items, will be much appreciated and it takes minimal space.

  • Lockers. I had actual metal lockers installed in a wide hallway off the entrance door used by employees. These are like the type you would see in a locker room of a workout facility and they are lockable with a key. These basically fit into an extra thick wall. Staff members love to have a safe, private space to put coats, purses, umbrellas, shoes and personal items - and they can decorate the inside with photos or knick-knacks.

  • Entrance and parking. This is not just a staff need, but having plenty of nearby parking for a growing staff and a growing patient base is an important perk. If employees have a separate entrance, parking may be close to that door without taking away prime spots from patients. A separate entrance allows doctors and staff to come and go without being seen by patients in the reception area.
I strongly discourage staff members from hanging out in the business office when they have down time. While this may be a natural place to go when there are no patients to care for, it creates a bad impression when someone walks into the office. Generally, the employees are chatting away about personal issues and they stop abruptly and everyone stares at the new person who interrupted the party. In addition to requesting that staff avoid this habit, it's best to tell them where they should go and what work assignments should be attended to.

Best wishes for continued success,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week

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Send questions and comments to neil@gailmard.com.

Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.

Please Note: The views expressed in Management Tip of the Week do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsor.

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