Guest post by Andrew Leech, Vice President, Operations Management Services, Greystone Communities
Today Andrew Leech is expanding on some of the ideas he shared in his recent presentation at The Greystone Event 2021, “The Art of the Pivot: Addressing Operational Challenges.”
With all the tragedy that has come with the pandemic, we’ve learned a couple of things. In a 24/7 operation, we never have the opportunity to retool and reopen and reboot. COVID-19 has been awful and terrible for our residents and industry, but one of the positives coming out the other side is the lessons we’ve learned. It would be a real shame to go back to the old normal.
Some of the lessons communities have learned:
- Residents can adopt and use technology far faster than we gave them credit for.
- Society is more open to doing things a little differently now than it did a year-and-a-half ago, so why waste this opportunity to improve and secure the future of our communities?
- In every facet of our operations, now is the time to change.
One caveat: There is a strong regulatory component in what we do, which means some things are not going to change as fast as we’d like them to. Guidelines and restrictions are going to impact our changes.
Here are some areas that I feel communities should be looking at:
We’ve had hiring challenges in health care for many, many years. There has been a nursing shortage and not enough nurses to replace those that left. Now the challenges are even greater, with other industries raising their wages during COVID-19. How are we going to compete for talent with other sectors? How can we help lower costs to help pay for talent? We’ve often pitched how strong our operations were, saying things like: “You would be lucky to come and work for such a fine organization that treats employees well.” In this market, rather than say, “You’d be fortunate to work for us,” it’s a natural shift to say, “We would really love the opportunity to have you be a part of our team.”
We need to change our approach to how we’re recruiting talent in a market this tight. We spend an awful lot of time and money to attract residents and get them through the sales process. We need to start to take some of those funds and have the same vested interest in appealing to employees. Some specific tactics communities can implement:
- Pay for time spent during the screening process
- Make sure your community has a director level position for HR
- Partner with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO)
- Text candidates within five minutes of their application hitting the portal (the younger generation doesn’t read emails)
- Offer seven days on and seven days off in skilled nursing care, or four days of 10-hour shifts — think creatively about how to offer work/life balance.
We have teams that have been through hell and back during the last 18 months to two years. We need to show them that they’re appreciated for the sacrifices they’ve made. And we also have to be realistic about our expectations for retention: A year for a certified nurse’s aide or a server is actually quite good.
Ideas for retention will vary in every single market. Offering employee meals is a great start — but we can’t just stop there. Here are some other options, many of which are also strong recruitment tools:
- Retention bonuses. We believe that a better approach to bonuses is to space them out and incentivize even further someone’s desire to stay with the company. Part of the bonuses may come at three months, six months, nine months, a year.
- Day care. Some communities are looking at spaces on their properties for day care and figuring how to license and run a center. We’re in the research stages, and I do have leaders of communities telling me that day care would make a huge impact. Having day care on-site simplifies people’s lives. Imagine being able to drop your child right at your workplace and go into your job each day.
- Flexible schedules. Gone are the days that if an employee can’t work weekends, they can’t be a part of your team. Now it can be mutually beneficial to be flexible to meet the needs of each individual. We can give team members the life balance that they’re looking for, and they can provide excellent experiences to the residents.
- Attractive employee lounges and locker rooms. We need to evaluate employee areas and solicit team feedback to determine if they are welcoming.
- Fee structure reviews and involvement of residents. COVID-19 strengthened that desire to help, because folks have very strong ties to members of the staff and their teams. The pandemic made us all re-evaluate what’s important. The residents have realized that their communities are not the same without these amazing team members who are working hard and sacrificing day in and day out. We had actually proposed a rate increase at one of our communities, and one of the members of the resident council came to the director and asked whether that number was going to be sufficient to pay their staff a living wage. He was invested in making sure the staff were well taken care of.
Because of the extra precautions communities have taken during COVID-19, we’ve had tremendous success in keeping the flu at bay this past year. Through tools like visitation restrictions, PPE and social distancing, we’ve shown we can control infections very, very effectively. That’s going to be the expectation moving forward. The challenge is, how do we eliminate the spread of infection, while still having communities that are more open with visitors?
Here’s an example of how we need to work more efficiently: If you have a housekeeper going to three different floors in a main building, as well as villas and cottages and garden homes, are you sacrificing a lot of time and energy in having that person traveling from place to place? This is now an opportunity to reboot services like housekeeping. Let’s break out the community in a way that is far more efficient for travel time. We’re looking for little opportunities to do things smarter.
Before COVID-19, dining in was not heavily utilized — and was not experientially the best. What we did learn during the pandemic was that there’s a way to do it well and inexpensively. We strongly believe, moving forward, that there is going to be demand for in-room dining to augment regular dining. We see this through the success of services like Grubhub, Door Dash and Uber Eats. Customers are looking to have great dining experiences with gourmet food in the comfort of their own homes — and seniors are going to be no different.
What we’ve learned from our residents’ eager adoption of technology is that virtual programs will always be in demand. Make sure your community keeps up by continuing to offer them and learning to do them better.
These are just small examples of how the need to change runs throughout the entire operation. It could be that in five to 10 years, our community buses will be driving themselves. Something along those lines is coming, so we’d better be ready.
People are more receptive to new ideas than they have been in years, so let’s take advantage of that opportunity. We don’t want to lose the chance to change and go back to doing things the way we’ve done for years and years and years. However, we also don’t want people to run to their communities with all these ideas and try to cram them all in at once. That’s not going to be successful for them. Each market may have different demands.
Fast and Simple Changes
Our focus is on providing small takeaways that everyone can do something with. For example, when was the last time you did a wage analysis in your market? If it’s a year old, the analysis is highly out of date. If it’s not done in the last 90 days, you can’t trust it.
Those are quick, easy things you can do: reviewing fees, involving residents, reassessing culture, looking for opportunities to be more efficient — those are actions that would be advantageous to any operation. It’s important to do the work to figure out what’s going to be most impactful to your team and operations. Now is the time to start to ask these questions and look into these issues.
A Short Window of Opportunity
You have a window of time to make these changes. You have receptive residents, prospective residents and staff. The trick is, you can’t sit on your hands and not do anything or the window will close. Eventually people will wipe these circumstances from their memories and we’ll continue on like we did before.
Our call to action is: “Please don’t do nothing.” If you do nothing, you’re going to be left behind. You can’t waste this opportunity, and if you do waste it, it will have longstanding effects on the financial health and stability of your community for years to come.
Seeing the Glass Half Full
I’d like to end this on an optimistic note. Should we feel optimistic or pessimistic about the future, knowing all that has happened? I choose to look at this through a positive lens. We have had some teams that went through some extremely difficult, once-in-a-lifetime challenges, and the people who have stuck around have built more stamina and become more capable, more resilient and more optimistic. We now have these folks on our team who have managed through a huge crisis, and they will be able to draw on these experiences should, and when, the next crisis comes along. This is an industry that has been challenged by many, many things, from 9/11 to the Great Recession and now COVID-19. There are always going to be challenges. We need to take away what we excelled in and what we learned during this crisis to help our operations get stronger and more secure in the future. We believe that the future is bright.