9 December 2019

Digitalisation and New Work in the Agency Sector: Special Challenge for Time Recording, Accounting and Project Controlling

Digitalisation and New Work are current trends that - of course - do not stop at the agency sector (advertising, internet/web, PR, digital marketing agencies, etc.). Digitalisation has led to the creation of the technical prerequisites to make new forms of work (New Work), especially time and location-independent work, possible in the first place. Especially creative people such as graphic artists, designers, copywriters or programmers are making more and more use of these possibilities - and thus present their employers/clients with special challenges, especially when it comes to recording and accounting for the time spent on projects, as well as project controlling.

Digitisation in the agency sector: technology makes it possible

As in other industries, digitalisation has also led to significant changes in work processes at agencies. These changes are most evident in three areas:

1. the meeting marathon is out, long live virtual communication

The client-agency contact in the pre-digitisation phase was largely analogue and personal. Agency pitches, briefing discussions and presentations of design proposals took place "analogue" in the form of meetings on site at the client's or at the agency. Afterwards, minutes and to-do lists were exchanged, which were then worked through accordingly until the next meeting. For each new design proposal or layout, a new meeting was usually convened.

Today, most agencies work with their clients largely virtually and online. E-mail has replaced the fax or the bicycle courier, and meetings are now usually held online as web conferences to which both agency staff and client staff are "connected" - regardless of their location (agency, home office, etc.).

2. virtual teamwork

And digitalisation goes even one step further and changes not only the communication between agency and agency clients, but also their cooperation. On the one hand, this applies to the agency itself. Thanks to modern technology, internal employees and external freelancers can now work together on brainstorming sessions, design studies and drafts without having to meet at the agency. If feedback or approval by the client is required, the client can also be integrated online into the virtual project space and access the documents stored there. Joint editing of drafts and proposals is also possible.

3. project-related and networked

This also "breaks up" the practice of fixed project teams that used to be common in agencies. Depending on the required qualifications, internal and external staff can be combined in a virtual team for each new assignment. If it becomes clear during the project that additional know-how is required, this can be added without much effort. The corresponding expert is simply given access to the corresponding virtual project room and is thus able to get an overview of the current project status within a very short time as well as to provide the services expected of him (design, text, layout, etc.).

New Work: Creative minds need free space

The new technical possibilities have created the basis for new ways of working and working conditions. New work is the buzzword - and creative people in particular are happy to take advantage of these opportunities.

New Work in this context means first of all the possibility of breaking up the rigid framework of the traditional "9 to 5" job in the agency offices. Copywriters, web designers or graphic artists can now work when and where they want.

Especially in the creative environment, this possibility is gladly accepted, because creativity cannot be squeezed into an eight-hour working day. In the end, all that matters is that it "sprouts", where and when is secondary, as long as the deadlines agreed with the client are met.

Another aspect of "New Work" is the possibility to better balance work and private life. Especially in the agency sector, there are many jobs that can be done in a time-limited (half-day, three days a week) workload. Especially for working mothers, but also for single parents, this is a very good opportunity to "reconcile" work and family life.

Another New Work development in the agency sector is reflected in the employment relationship. Especially in the creative sector, the share of freelancers and freelance creatives is very high. Instead of working exclusively for one employer, creatives increasingly appreciate the possibility of being employed on a project basis. This enables them to work on different projects at the same time, but they can also take time off if necessary.

Freelancers and virtual teams as a challenge for the agency: Example TankTank

As advantageous and flexible as digitisation and new work can be for creative professionals, it is equally challenging for those responsible in the agency to coordinate and manage these new forms of work and ways of working. This is especially true for the (internal) task of time recording (who did what on which project and when?) as well as for the (external) tasks of accounting and project controlling - also vis-à-vis the client or agency customer.

An example of these challenges - and how best to master them as an agency - is provided by the agency TankTank from Hamburg. The background for the spin-off from an existing creative agency was precisely the realisation described at the beginning that digitalisation and "new work" are also becoming more and more prevalent in the agency industry. At TankTank, there is therefore only a lead team consisting of the founders, who bring freelance experts - conceptioners, strategists, designers, copywriters, art directors, SoMe editors, SEO/SEA experts, programmers, motion graphics artists, editors, directors - into a so-called "tank" for each new client project. Once the project is completed, the tank dissolves again. Advertising clients who rely on this concept include companies such as HUK-COBURG insurance, BMW Motorrad, the manufacturer of dairy products Kerrygold or comdirect Bank.

"Especially with virtual teams, i.e. our tanks, it is important that all services rendered in the tank are recorded and accounted for promptly and precisely," explains Patrick Plogstedt, one of the three founders and managing directors of TankTank. "In addition, we in the lead team naturally need as up-to-date an overview as possible at all times of what working hours have been incurred in the individual tanks and how this affects the current status quo of the project." With an ever-increasing number of tank projects, it quickly became clear that manual project controlling as in the early days no longer made sense. For this reason, TankTank decided to introduce the cloud-based software ZEP for these tasks after only about one year of existence.

In the meantime, all project staff working in a tank record their project working hours and usually use the ZEP mobile apps available for all common operating systems. ZEP is also used to record all receipts. This also applies to external services. "The allocation of all external services to the corresponding project is essential for a freelance network like TankTank in order to ensure profitability at all times," explains Mr Plogstedt.

Conclusion: With ZEP, agencies are able to comprehensively master the challenges of digitalisation and new work in the agency sector in the areas of project time recording, billing and project controlling.

Here you can read the entire TankTank user report read up.