The dream of healthy productivity: Scoro and agency leaders on making it a reality

By Sam Anderson | Editor, The Drum Network

Journey Further

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productivity article

July 21, 2022 | 6 min read

At a recent event hosted by The Drum Network and work management software specialists Scoro, we gathered some of agencyland’s top leaders to ask: what does healthy productivity look like in 2022?

Productivity – getting stuff done – is so obviously important to a business’s success that it can be easy to overlook. While productivity hacks and stories of successful people’s morning routines abound on social media, many of us spend so much time doing the stuff that we don’t stop to think whether how we’re doing it is healthy and effective.

Fred Krieger, founder and chief exec at work management software company Scoro, has a professional interest in productivity – but it’s one that started out very personal. Speaking at a recent event for marketing leaders from The Drum Network, Krieger was candid about how overwork in a different role (he runs an independent record label) damaged his mental health. He was doing, he says, “12- to 16-, 17-hour working days, back-to-back for six, maybe seven, days a week. And it really started affecting my health. I lost a massive amount of weight. I was really close to burnout.”

In search of lost time

Literature is powerful: reading a book, David Allen’s Getting Things Done, was the turning point for Krieger. Wanting to track his efforts digitally, Krieger couldn’t find a commercially-available tool with the functionality he needed. He decided to “build the system for myself,” hacking together an early prototype of what would become Scoro – a company that now employs 150 people and boasts 1,500 customers.

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“For some reason, we don’t have an equal amount of respect toward time as we do toward money,” says Krieger. Even organizations such as marketing agencies that are “in the business of time, where the money they make is in direct correlation of the time they put in, treat time in quite a vague way... thinking about time, with the same granularity that we use to count every penny when we spend something, is key.”

Time is precious; spend it wisely

Scoro is serious about using data and research to deliver more productive work: it recently became one of the latest companies to adopt a four-day work week, with Fridays as a free day for all employees. Krieger says, quite simply, that it’s “a smarter way to work” that comes after “six months of really rigorous planning, completely reimagining the way we do meetings, internal communication and knowledge management internally.”

In an oft-cited stat, Krieger says that “20% of our time is wasted anyway”; compressing that empty time into a day off, with four days at a much higher rate of productivity, is a win-win. Core to that is reducing interruptions: “We’re interrupted on average every 10 minutes during a working day (and that’s from research from about six years ago; I’m pretty sure it’s much worse now.” That’s about 1,000 interruptions per person per month. Removing a third of those, Krieger says, can be transformative.

Certainty v flexibility: our agency panel reacts

A later panel featured leaders from three agencies from The Drum Network sharing their own productivity journeys and hacks for agencyland. Sarah Baumann, managing director at VaynerMedia London, argues that distractibility has worsened in the pandemic world of hybrid work. “We’ve lived through the most ridiculous, horrible, extraordinary couple of years ... and we’ve learned a lot about each other,” she says. “The habits we picked up back then [at the start of the pandemic] were terrible: back-to-back Zooms and hangouts, with hardly any time to go to the fridge one meter away from you.”

This reached a nadir, she says, in the lockdowns of winter 2020, with millions shut in at home, working hard and seeing almost no sunlight. “This could have had the most horrific effect on everyone’s morale, motivation and life balance,” she says. That’s when VaynerMedia introduced Winter Wednesdays (since maintained as Wellness Wednesdays), encouraging late midweek starts to give time for exercise and a break.

“When we looked at our timesheets and our billable hours,” says Baumann, “Wednesdays ended up being the most productive days.”

Robin Skidmore, founder and chief exec at Journey Further, says they did something similar: three hours free on a Wednesday. Skidmore argues, though, that flexibility can be an equally valuable tool compared with the certainty of initiatives like the four-day week. “We’ve got a nine-to-five hangover from the industrial age, which doesn’t really work for the modern workplace.”

“From day one our agency, five and a half years ago, had complete flexibility, whether you were a CEO, or whether you were an account manager,” he continues. “That’s true flexibility – you chose where you wanted to work and when you wanted to work ... it comes down to having choices, and empowering people to be more trusted in their choices.”

Lab Group, meanwhile, has been operating under a four-day week for years – albeit a ‘five in four’ model where employees are expected to work a normal week’s worth of hours, but are free to choose whether to do so in four or five days. Managing director Harpreet Bushell says that the relative certainty of nailed-down days off is useful for clients and employees alike: “The biggest frustration that comes with flexibility [is that] if everyone’s on their own schedule, and you need to work as a team, you’re either a bottleneck or someone’s not getting stuff done.”

Still, though, another kind of flexibility is essential: flexibility for each to set their own parameters, based on what works and what doesn’t work for them. This means taking into account “different people’s mind frames and how they work,” says Bushell, as well as neurodiversity and the huge variance in “what gives you energy and what are your energy drains.”

For Baumann, the key is to remember that “you can retrain and educate behaviors, and set boundaries.” That involves reminding people “that work can just take, take, take, and if you don’t set your own boundaries, and we don’t start to enforce some boundaries ... then your productivity will not be healthy.”

Additional reporting by Chris Sutcliffe; Fred Krieger interview by Diane Young. For the latest thinking from industry experts direct into your inbox every other week, sign up to The Drum’s Agency Insights newsletter.

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