Opinion

Workplace culture is the real barrier to agency productivity

Instead of agencies looking at ideas and solutions that promise to make them more productive tomorrow, they should be looking at the barriers which stop productivity today, argues Siobhan Hayes.

Conversations on productivity tend to be about ways to increase or help boost our productivity levels. Yet the elephant in the room is having a real discussion about the barriers preventing teams from being their most productive today.

The real barrier to agency teams’ productivity is their workplace culture. A culture that allows a last-minute meeting to eat up the remaining hours of your day and prevents you from meeting a project deadline. Or, a culture where you find out via Kim’s OOO that she’s on holiday the same week she’s booked on a shoot, leaving you short on resources. And a culture that (without anything being said) expects you to reply when your boss emails at 9pm, because your work email is on your mobile and the subject line is “URGENT!” (yes, in all caps).

This behaviour is all too familiar and routine within agency environments, because of an agency workplace culture that enables it. 59% of agency teams said they’re struggling to get through more than two hours of uninterrupted work each day, according to a recent survey by Float, so it’s fair to presume workplace culture is the true barrier to productivity.

For example, let’s say an account manager has committed to delivering a project by next week, without consulting the video team required for the shoot, who are already at capacity for the next fortnight. Everything that follows -poor communication because you’re working to tight deadlines; a breakdown in processes from being overworked; feeling like you can’t switch off because everything is urgent and you’re still getting emails at 10pm – is symptomatic of a workplace culture telling a team to prioritise sales and the business’s top line.

So how can agencies create a workplace culture that cultivates productivity?

Below are the top offenders for limiting productivity within agency environments and my recommendations for creating a workplace culture that can overcome them.

Reduce the time lost in meetings by creating a culture that values calendar blocks of uninterrupted time
The amount of time lost in back to back meetings is a recurring theme in agencies. Being extraordinarily busy isn’t anything to be proud of. A blocked calendar of meetings and lack of time to complete real work usually implies an organisation doesn’t value or prioritise how a workers time is spent.

How can you overcome this?

  • Regularly audit how many meetings your team is having and how often and effective (or not) they actually are.
  • Implement a policy that actively seeks ways to minimise the time spent in meetings by removing, or consolidating, them where possible.
  • Give your team the autonomy to put time in their calendar to complete deep work. That means the two hours they’ve marked themselves as ‘busy’, yet can still be seen at their desk. Yes, they are busy. Busy working!

Prevent the burnout from overbooking resources with a culture that values the operations and internal processes of your agency
A recent agency productivity survey by Float found that 75% of agencies overbook resources on a monthly basis, with 25% of teams saying this happens five or more times. While the challenge of managing agency capacity and juggling team schedules isn’t new, the internal process of booking and allocating resources can only be effective if you have a culture that respects the value of these operations.

How can this be achieved?

  • Be brutal with your team’s bookable time by having one shared schedule that everyone works from. There should only be one, visible and accessible source of truth for your agency’s upcoming projects and planned work.
  • Start measuring and tracking your resource utilisation to create accountability for how effective your operations actually are. Everything else is just guesswork.
  • Make aligning client expectations one of your first goals when kicking off a project.

Remove the office distractions by embracing a remote work culture that promotes flexible and deep work
I’ve been at companies that boasted a flexible workplace because staff could work from home on any day without notice. Yet for senior management, especially, this still ended up being mostly spent on conference calls. 82% of agencies are adopting a remote work policy, at least some days, according to Float’s research, however having a remote work policy doesn’t correlate to productivity, culture does. To truly promote productivity, agencies should be encouraging remote workdays as opportunities to complete more hours of deep, uninterrupted work.

How to align remote work as deep work

  • Be clear about what “remote work” means for your company. Working from home and working remotely are not the same thing, and technically, to work remotely means to work from anywhere. Your team should be able to work remotely from wherever they feel they will be their most productive.
  • Empower your team to designate their remote workdays also to be “meeting-free” days
  • Share the wins of what has been achieved from a remote, deep workday. Set up a dedicated Slack channel where team members can showcase what they’re working on and how much they got done simply by not being uninterrupted.

Instead of agencies looking at ideas and solutions that promise to make us more productive tomorrow, we should be identifying what is preventing us from being our most productive today. That means we need to start diagnosing common issues like having too many meetings, poor communication within the team, or a breakdown in processes as what they actually are: symptoms of a workplace culture. By doing this, we can empower teams to be their most productive and establish a deeply considered company culture that actually enables it.

Siobhan Hayes is the marketing lead for Float

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