Why you could be contributing to the timesheet challenge in your agency…

Image for Georgia Cowen By Georgia Cowen

No matter how much agencies develop, grow and evolve, there seems to be one sticking point common to all: timesheets. There’s never been an easy answer to this challenge and maybe there will never be a perfect one. But there are ways to make them a little easier for your teams. After all, your chief commodity is time… and time is money.

Get to the heart of the issue

Ask anyone in your agency if they like filling out a timesheet and they’ll say no. While this can feel like simple stubbornness, delving a little deeper could give you some insights.

Who fills out timesheets in your agency? Chances are it’s the creatives, the ones doing the billable work for clients. If they see that other teams, such as operations, accounts or finances, aren’t filling them out, there’s an immediate disparity. It can feel like they’re being monitored while other teams aren’t. There’s also often a sense of being micromanaged, not trusted to fit the work into the allotted hours and constantly on the clock.

The creative process is also just that. Creative. It’s not mathematical or commercial, at least in their eyes. So logging time on a creative project can feel somewhat ‘offensive’ to a creative colleague. In fact, they see it as simply a waste of their time when they could be putting their talents to better use. They’re an effort, a drag and there’s nothing in it for them. Which brings us nicely on to the next point.

Share the benefits

If you’re simply telling people they ‘must’ fill out a timesheet, it’s hardly surprising if you get pushback. You need to show some empathy. You get that it’s a pain, they hate doing them. And you can see they might think it’s all about the greater agency good rather than bringing them anything as a team or an individual.

This is when you can really explain how timesheeting actually filters down from benefiting the whole agency to personal advantages. Essentially, anything that’s good for the agency is good for everyone. Keeping jobs on budget means making profits – which translates differently from agency to agency, but could mean bonuses or pay increases. It means clients are being charged correctly for jobs, so are more likely to bring repeat business (which keeps everyone in work). It also helps production managers to track utilisation and keep it feasible. Explain to them they don’t need to be showing 100% project work on their timesheets: it’s not about justifying their existence, but about keeping within cost expectations.

Knowing how much time they’ve spent on a job also helps to you to understand what capacity you have for other work. It’s not about piling on the work, rather about keeping your workload fulfilling and manageable.

You can also keep track of any teams which are light on work – and look to fill these hours – or assess whether any teams are stretched and overworked, and bring in freelancers or extra resource.

Essentially, it’s getting the message across that good timesheeting will keep workloads at the right levels, help spot looming burnout and keep clients happy.

Talk about the bigger picture

That still leaves the fact that everyone has to do a timesheet. Keep on sharing the bigger picture and the benefits, but look at ways you can make these reminders friendly and fun (you’re a creative agency, so here’s a good time to be creative). Think memes, posters, cartoons… anything that will get people smiling and engaged. Celebrate those who do their timesheets well – you could even run a competition and incentivise them with team treats.

One tip is to actively discourage your teams to do their timesheets on a Friday afternoon. This just adds stress into what is always a busy time, they won’t get done properly and just add to the general hatred of timesheets. You could send alerts each day, to help your teams get into good habits of filling out their time while it’s fresh in mind.

There are plenty of ways to talk timesheets without making it too tedious… the trick is to make it a team effort, rather than a command from ‘above’.

And if it’s still not sticking…

Even when you do all of this, there will very likely be a few people who still don’t do their timesheets. This isn’t really an option at an agency, so you can’t just let this slide. It could be they need a one-to-one chat to find out what their sticking points are, or alerts to their line managers to remind them on a daily basis. If it’s a real issue, it might need to become part of their personal development plan.

Creatives and timesheets will probably always be an uneasy alliance. But most people who work in an agency know they’ll have to log their time, whether they want to or not. The big thing that agency leaders can do is help them realise how important it is, from agency to team to a personal level. You still may hear a few mumbles around the studio… but the team might just be a little more inclined to.

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