Is your agency stuck in a time-wasting rut?

by Andy Nguyen
escape the agency time wasting rut

Don’t let your agency fall victim to the silent time trap

Processes and systems are essential for growing an agency. They’re the scaffolding holding the structure in place. 

But too many agencies mistake scaffolding for structure, becoming overburdened with procedure at the expense of productivity, creativity and collaboration. 

Process should help agencies scale, not become a straitjacket that belabours daily tasks and prevents knowledge sharing. 

Agencies that get stuck in the “time-wasting rut” of redundant procedures, information siloes and excessive paperwork find it hard to scale as too many of their limited resources are overstretched already. 

Hiring more people won’t solve the problem. New employees quickly get stuck in the same pitfalls. The only way to pull your agency out of the productivity rut is to trace time these issues back to their source. 

Based on the massive amount of employee productivity data we have and our experience working with agencies around the world, we’ve developed this step-by-step guide to using organizational data to root out and rectify productivity gaps that could be holding your agency back.

Do we have a productivity crisis on our hands?

Research from McKinsey found that productivity has been declining since the 1960s. Just a few years ago, it was hovering just above the historically low levels seen at the tail-end of WWII. 

Part of the problem, according to McKinsey, is the “micropatterns” that see people working longer hours without adding equivalent value. 

You may recognize this employee productivity paradox as a rise in staff hours without an equivalent revenue increase, a breakdown in team collaboration, rising numbers of client complaints or lost accounts, or a decline in billable vs non-billable hours.

But which processes are holding us back? Where can we optimize efficiency, and how do we ensure the underlying gaps are sewn shut?

Learning to find red flags: The signs your agency might have productivity issues

Growing the ratio of billable hours vs non-billable hours (without compromising quality) has always been the agency challenge. 

But while agency leaders might be frustrated with low outputs or slow growth, the causes of declining profits run deeper.  

As agencies of all kinds face disruption and embrace remote work – creative, advertising, design, marketing, media, PR and staffing agencies alike – managing employee productivity without the right tools can become  a game of whack-a-mole.

Our research found that companies with no productivity tracking tools reported more chalenges monitoring employee performance metrics, which means issues only become visible when their impact spills over into team performance, project delivery or client satisfaction.

Here’s what some of those red flags look like. 

1. Delays and missed deadlines 

When tasks take longer than they should, the overall project timeline slips. These delays have a cascading effect on other projects, diverting resources and creating a backlog that compounds inefficiency. 

The answer often resides in streamlining workflows or improving collaboration. To implement a solution, you need to know where the cracks first appear. 

2. Increased costs

The cost of re-work, overtime and wasted hours quickly adds up, eroding an agency’s thin margin. Inefficiency directly translates to increased costs that can’t always be recovered. Increasing billable hours is merely a Band-Aid fix for productivity issues, not a sustainable solution.

3. Burnout

Lack of clarity, excessive administration and poor time management hamper employees’ ability to work efficiently. And they feel it. Frustration at the ever-increasing workload builds until your best people burn out or ‘quiet quit’. Burnout affects individual employees and negatively impacts team dynamics, collaboration and overall morale.

4. Client satisfaction

Clients notice when employees are rushing to meet deadlines or focused on process instead of work quality. At best, the work is uninspired. More often, we see process-heavy agencies frustrated by errors, inconsistencies or subpar results, which erode clients’ trust and damage the agency’s reputation.

5. Missed growth opportunities

Inefficiency is one of the biggest enemies of scaled growth. When low collaboration puts a strain on productivity, there’s enough challenges delivered existing work, leaving no bandwidth to pursue new business.

 This shows up as an agency that struggles to adapt when the market changes, innovate to outperform competitors or display innovation that brings in new business.

Lost minutes, lost money 

Labor costs are a significant slice of an agency’s budget. Gartner’s report, The State of Marketing Budget and Strategy 2022, suggests staff account for 25% of total costs. 

Agencies tend to operate on lean margins, which means employee productivity directly relates to profitability. Productivity gaps either reduce the number of billable hours available for client work or the output achieved in those hours. 

This isn’t necessarily the team’s fault. It’s also not a sign of bad management. 

More often, profit margins are eroded by: 

  • Process-heavy workflows that see creatives or teams bogged down by paperwork
  • Unnecessary administrative tasks, such as multiple sign-offs or manual timesheets
  • Working in siloes where collaborating will get the job done faster
  • Preventable re-work resulting from unclear briefs
  • Information siloes that see teams duplicating their colleagues’ work
  • Inflexible review processes 
  • Bottlenecks caused by sub-optimal resource allocation 

One recurring challenge we’ve found when working with agencies is that productivity gaps appear as small cracks at different stages in the agency workflow. Each team – even individual employees – face unique challenges or fritter away time in different ways. 

Some teams have too many meetings. Some people get distracted by social media. Some processes, typically briefs and approvals, see employees waiting on others to respond. Some automatable tasks are still manual. Some people just wasted 60 seconds Googling whether ‘automatable’ is a word (it is). 

All of these time-wasting pursuits add up to lost productivity, missed growth opportunities and leaner profits.

Make every minute count with a Productivity Audit

free productivity audit

The first step to solving productivity problems is acknowledging the existence of the silent time trap. Managers must step back and evaluate their agency’s efficiency situation holistically (and honestly) to understand whether the barriers to scale are arising from productivity issues. 

The next step is diagnosing the gaps. 

We developed our Productivity Audit for exactly this purpose, to give agency leaders the employee productivity data they need to make informed decisions. Using the data collected during the Productivity Audit, managers can illuminate the hidden inefficiencies and bottlenecks that are hurting the bottom line.

How a Productivity Audit works

Time Doctor Silent collects organizational data. The data is collected over two weeks using Time Doctor Silent, a non-intrusive, secure and anonymous employee productivity tracker.

The data you collect is based on organizational goals. Our team supports yours throughout the process, ensuring you identify or validate the underlying business problems.

Learn more about Time Doctor for agencies, including the types of data you can track and how data-driven insight boosts billable hours.

With this detailed data and tailored insights, agency leaders can prioritize and eliminate productivity gaps.

Pulling your agency out of the productivity rut: How to implement productivity initiatives

It takes time to foster a productivity-focused culture. Although a Productivity Audit delivers actionable insights in two weeks, this is only the starting point. 

What agency leaders need to do next is address the high-priority issues undercutting billable hours and strategically roll out employee productivity initiatives.

Set growth-aligned goals 

Clear goals that tie back to organizational strategy act as a ‘north star’ for efficiency strategies, guiding decision-making and giving employees accountability. 

Establish specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that align with productivity objectives. These goals can include reducing delivery timelines, removing unnecessary administration, improving client satisfaction, or increasing the ratio of billable to non-billable hours. 

See how SmartSites trimmed 80 hours of coding time from website development projects and improved overall efficiency by 35% by analyzing where people were spending time and allocating tasks more efficiently

Track KPIs

Productivity Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) serve as milestones to measure progress towards productivity targets. KPIs are agency-specific, but common metrics include:

  • Billable vs non-billable hours
  • Project completion rates
  • Client satisfaction scores
  • Employee retention
  • New business (potential and won)
  • New services offered
  • Number of awards and accolades

We’ve also seen agencies get creative with KPIs. For example, if information siloes are a persistent issue, try monitoring the number of projects with people from diverse teams. Similarly, when unneccesary meetings cause frustration and delays, monitoring KPIs around the number, length and frequency of meetings could be a good idea.

By regularly monitoring metrics that contribute to SMART goals, agencies can keep a close eye on progress and make data-driven decisions if the efficiency strategies aren’t quite working.

Check in with employees

It’s vital to not lose sight of employee well-being in the process of becoming more productive. When reviewing how work has changed recently, McKinsey noted the importance of “tailored, authentic experiences” that “strengthen employee purpose, ignite energy, and elevate organization-wide performance”.

Managers should be available for team members to discuss their workload, flag potential roadblocks and identify what support is needed. These check-ins, both scheduled and spontaneous, also serve as opportunities to provide feedback and recognize achievements.

Allocate productivity champions

Creating a culture of productivity involves instilling a mindset of continuous improvement and accountability throughout the agency. Designating people to become ‘productivity champions’ can help to promote and propagate this mindset.

The role of a productivity champion is to:

  • Encourage open communication, collaboration and knowledge-sharing
  • Recognize and reward employees who proactively demonstrate productivity
  • Encourage the adoption of best practices 
  • Facilitate training or resources to enhance skills and workflows
  • Support team members who need extra help transforming their working style

Focus on data-driven continuous improvement

Use the insights gained from the Productivity Audit to your advantage by monitoring progress against the initial productivity gaps. 

Time Doctor provides ongoing data analysis to fuel continuous improvement efforts. Vulpine Interactive, a fast-growing social media marketing agency based in San Diego, has integrated Time Doctor into workday processes to streamline tasks and improve billing.

“We thought things would take significantly less time, but once we started tracking, we realized we had to change our prices.”

  • Derric and Shana Haynie, Vulpine Interactive

Time Doctor provides transparency over employee productivity and billable hours, making it easy to assess the impact of implemented changes in real-time and identify areas for optimization. 

Wrapping up

Lower outputs, higher staff costs, declining profits and disappointed clients are all symptoms of hidden productivity gaps. 

Whether it’s the all-too-common ‘this meeting could have been an email’ or a creative chasing Account Management around the office to sign off a minor copy change, every wasted minute means wasted money.

Agencies must actively pull themselves out of the productivity rut, starting with rooting out the causes of inefficiencies using organizational data.

It’s hard to see the forest for the trees. That’s why Time Doctor worked with agencies worldwide to develop industry-leading employee productivity solutions give growing companies the data to identify productivity red flags and optimize internal processes.

Our Productivity Audit is specially designed to help agencies diagnose inefficiencies, create a roadmap for growth and measure the outcome of productivity initiatives.

Whether fully remote, on-site or hybrid, Time Doctor adapts to your agency’s structure for deeper insights and greater accuracy.

If you’re ready to revolutionize your agency, request a free Productivity Audit to get tailored insights delivered in two weeks.

View a free demo of Time Doctor

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