Tickled pink: Spring remodel tips


Got a free weekend? Take your veterinary practice from dingy to dynamic with these fast fixes from the experts.

shutterstock.comInterested in spring cleaning at your practice? Why stop at cleaning? The design team at Silberstang Lasky Architects P.C. says you can make affordable small changes to your office that will have a big impact on your mood, your productivity and your clients' level of confidence in what you do. I sat down with the Silberstang Lasky team for more of the details.

Bash Halow (BH): Is an annual review of the office interior important?

Arthur Lasky (AL): Absolutely. We get too comfortable with the status quo. We start seeing with our eyes instead of the eyes that matter most-those of our clients. Getting rid of clutter, cleaning up the space, repainting, changing out worn furniture … everyone responds to improvements-most significantly, your employees. It sends a message that you are invested.

Barry Silberstang (BS): The eliminating clutter part is important. The average American employee spends one week a year looking for stuff at the office. One four-drawer file cabinet has been shown to cost $25,000 dollars to fill and $2,100 dollars per year to maintain when you add the cost of creating the documents that go in it, looking for documents and recreating the ones you lose. (Source: The Essential Client/Server Survival Guide.) File cabinets are like a double decker casket for paper. We encourage our clients to organize their materials digitally and free up that file cabinet space for other uses.

File cabinets are like a double decker casket for paper.

Sarkis Arakelyan (SA): Disarray drags on morale. Some people think that a cluttered desk is a sign of a genius, but 73 percent of employees polled think that it's just indicative of a messy coworker. Uncluttered spaces feel good to work and do business in.

BH: What are some things I should think about changing at the office?

BS: Color! You can get so much mileage out of a can of paint. Pick a warm color. Personally, I like one boldly colored wall with the remaining walls painted in a more subdued color. It makes the space more interesting. As the artist Paul Klee said, "One eye sees, the other feels."

Jefferson Frost (JF): Use color to signal a doorway or a particular exam room. It's easier for clients to remember "the blue room" as opposed to "exam room 3." You can also help clients pick the right door to move through, simply by painting it a different color from the rest.

BS: Along the same lines, think about the materials in your office: the faces of cabinets, the surfaces of tables and flooring. Remember that both clients and employees like the look and feel of natural things. Wood, ceramic, stone … natural materials bring calm to the space and a sense that it has balance.

AL: I'd like to toss in a word or two about lighting. Outside of treatment and surgery-areas where you need very bright lighting-choose warm colored bulbs, even if you have fluorescent lighting fixtures. Make sure that you keep the bulbs dust-free and clean out any bugs that may have met their demise behind lamp covers. Know that bulbs lose their luminosity with time, and consider changing out the bulbs before they actually burn out.

BH: What about my waiting area?

AL: Clients are making judgments about your competency from the moment they walk in the door. Outdated interiors, lighting fixtures and furniture signal to the client that your best days are behind you.

BS: Pick furniture that's comfortable. If pet owners are comfortable, chances are their pets will be comfortable. Of course, more comfortable furniture has a shorter lifespan, but you should consider this the cost of business. Plan to spend a small amount of money every year to keep your lobby and exam rooms looking like you care and that you are valuable.

AL: Think about sound. Change the filters and service the fans in your air conditioning units. You may no longer hear the high-pitched hum that the dirty air filters are adding to your background noise, but your patients can hear it-and on a subconscious level, you and your clients can too.

BS: Help quiet loud reception areas by adding upholstered furniture, drapes or even plants. But if you have plants, be careful that they don't turn leggy or start to brown at the edges. Save pets, not plants. Once they start to fade, toss them out or take them home to convalesce.

SA: If you have a TV, steer clear of the news channel. News can be a source of low-grade anxiety. Instead, give clients a nature channel to watch or even a meditation channel that has a slide deck of calming pictures. 

AL: Don't let your team members pick background music to suit their mood. New-age music might not win a Grammy any time soon, but it's an effective calmer. A three or four-hour loop of it should do the trick. Water features are also effective at instilling a soothing background sound.

BH: Magazines in the lobby? Toys to distract the kids? What do you think?

SA: I think that we are in agreement that these kind of distractions are probably not necessary, but you should do what you think is right for your practice's clients and culture. Certainly throw out dog-eared copies of magazines and make sure that toys, books and other items on common tables are clean and well maintained. If you have common tables, consider grouping chairs around them, instead of lining them up against a wall, so that clients are encouraged to interact with one another. But be mindful that clients with anxious pets should have access to a private seating area.

BH: What about hospital pets in the lobby?

SA: Do fish. Fish are great. Fish provide a calming background of movement. They're quiet, and the air filter makes a water bubbling sound that's soothing. Just keep the tank clean and decorated well. Parrots are probably too disruptive in the lobby. Put them in the treatment area where they can hang out with folks that they know. A wandering cat is great, but he or she might be upsetting to your feline and canine patients. Ditto with office dogs.

BH: What should I have on my walls?

AL: Art that is specific to your team's personality and your office spirit is best. Professional photos of team members along with their names helps clients remember your staff and to bond with them better. Pictures of clients with their pets are also great.

JF: If a school visited the practice recently and some children sent hand-drawn cards, frame them and put them up. These kind of personal images underline your brand and your personality.

AL: In general, avoid posters and harsh signs like ‘No cell phones.' If you need to convey such information, try a more courteous approach. A small table card that says something like, ‘We invite you to take your calls outside to avoid disturbing our other clients' says what you need to say, but is more deferential.

BH: Last words?

SA: You're in your workspace 50-plus hours a week. Help it help you to feel calmer and more clearheaded. Have it shoulder its share of your practice's marketing: that you are trustworthy, caring, together and competent.

BS: Invite the team members to work with you on design changes. The exercise will give them a sense of empowerment, and you'll make better decisions about what to change.

AL: A space that thinks about the people in it-how they interact, how they move and how they communicate and see one another-can have a dramatic effect on how teams perform, their level of job satisfaction and their sense of well being. That's why, as a design firm, we are big on common areas and open spaces. You are a team; build a space that allows everyone to be in the game together.

Bash Halow, CVPM, LVT, is a member of Fetch360 education team. Silberstang Lasky Architects, P.C. (SLA) is a full service architectural firm with extensive experience creating successful veterinary facilities. The firm's principals are NCARB registered, and have designed commercial, institutional and residential projects throughout the United States. Check out their work here. 

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