There are some companies that just stand out. They have that certain... 'je ne sais quoi'. Freestyle, is one of them.
Placing third in The Top 25 Culture Leaders 2019, Freestyle is a digital agency that uses creative technology to solve complex business challenges for large corporations.
We asked Suzanne Linton, MD and Co-Founder of Freestyle to explain why and how they eliminated timesheets to improve employee confidence, engagement and productivity.
Why timesheets don't work
For too long, timesheets limited us in terms of our ability to deliver expertise as opposed to billable hours.
This is not to say that our experts weren’t doing their jobs, but we were at a point where we’d find ourselves spending more time than needed filling in forms to justify our quotes.
It was also incredibly difficult to give people enough headspace and room to be creative and innovative.
Great ideas are born as part of conversations, shared experiences and quite often, that happens outside of a billable brainstorming session.
It felt like a disservice to our people; essentially we were expecting them to switch between projects and be accountable for every 10 minutes in their diaries. It didn’t feel particularly progressive and we were taking away people’s ability to manage their own time.
“Timesheets made it incredibly difficult to give people enough headspace and room to create and innovate.”
Time to change mindsets
Around 3 years ago we decided to change the way we work, to increase the level of trust and autonomy within the business. Knowing the sort of barriers timesheets were for our people, we went cold turkey and stopped them one Friday (in the knowledge we could always start again if we failed).
Despite creating some new challenges for ourselves around understanding and managing our workload, we felt the benefits would be worth the effort.
Of course, we had to increase the level of communication as a company, to reassure everyone that we were doing okay steering the ship without timesheets and also on every project so that problems were caught early and action taken.
We also made sure that we boosted our culture to ensure that people felt safe when raising problems and were able to take ownership of improvements and adjustments.
We have continued to develop this collaborative approach and on top of all the other benefits we have seen it has also worked to improve our culture and overall wellbeing too. Bonus...
Kill timesheets to revive productivity
Overall, we've found there’s a greater level of involvement in projects as a whole. People are taking ownership not only for their own expert areas but for the whole project, right up to delivery and beyond.
By taking the focus off of managing and measuring time, we've helped improve employee confidence so our people feel able to add pzazz, go the extra mile and delight our clients.
Now, while you might argue we could charge more accurately for this if we religiously recorded all our hours that's just not our focus. So long as our profit margins are healthy, we retain business and receive client referrals, we know it's working well.
“Lack of timesheets enabled people to go the extra mile, add pzazz and delight our clients.”
Employee productivity has improved as well. People feel they have control over their own work, when they do it and over how long they spend doing it.
Our people are more passionate about their work and the output of the whole team. Essentially, by increasing involvement and engagement, we believe that we have helped reduce the stresses of agency life.
Freestyle's timesheet and productivity learnings:
We learnt that a well-run project team can tell you most things a set of timesheets can tell you – but quicker.
And that people can self-correct when they know what to watch out for.
Trusting the team and their expert knowledge is well worth the risk of letting go a little bit.
“A well-run project team can tell you most things timesheets can tell you – but quicker.”
If your culture is open and collaborative, communication is strong and your team want to learn and improve rather than blame when things aren’t quite right, then removing timesheets can give you a real boost to team culture, staff attraction and retention.
And as a by-product… profit.