How COVID Changed Our Approach to Working For the Better

As an agency, how do you work? Sometimes, even the most well-established agencies settle into working patterns and structures that are only there because it’s the way that it’s always been done.

That was Zinc in 2019. We were doing well, leading our area in creative and marketing service and bringing in a steady stream of clients. Nevertheless, we had operational hiccups that had simply become a habit. Our agency was launched in 2004, beginning as website design and growing to include technology, website development, and marketing as our client base required it. As a result, our teams were working in a silo, focusing internally and championing their own successes. We subscribed to a traditional working environment, where our whole team was in from 9:00-5:30, but despite being in the same building, we weren’t always communicating the way we should.

When the COVID pandemic hit, many businesses needed to look within and rethink the way they were working. We did the same thing. Necessity was what drove our transformation, but the changes we’ve made have already paid dividends.

Embracing Remote Working

Pre-COVID, remote working was something that we never did. Our company shared the same concerns as many who had never tried remote working; would every employee respond well to a less structured environment? Would we see lower productivity and missed deadlines, or miss red flags because the team wasn’t working in close proximity?

What’s more, our team had never managed projects remotely or run meetings virtually. We didn’t know what speed bumps we would encounter, as our usual processes weren’t possible.

In the UK, where we are based, there was no slow transition into working from home. Our team was simply in the office on Tuesday, and working remotely on Wednesday. We began with close regular contact to make sure that everybody was adjusting to the change as best as they could, but very quickly it was proven that our team is exceptional.

They adapted to home working quickly, and we found that productivity actually increased. We were able to adapt and improve our processes to account for the change. We realized that the new way of working was helping improve the work/life balance for our staff, enabling us to implement positive changes to this area of the company culture.

Scrapping the Idea of ‘Departments’

Historically, our departments were siloed. Creative, Support, and Marketing worked individually, in separate rooms, with very different working styles. Historically, this worked because each department had differing needs, however, each team developed different targets, budgets, and schedules. For these reasons, internal communication was hampered, especially when we had clients working across departments. So, we decided to unify all three teams into one department.

We did this with a restructure that combined the leadership teams to bring the departments under one umbrella, and a singular place to schedule and manage our work. In addition, we employed a Digital Project manager to help connect everybody’s worklists and maintain a better level of communication with our partners. As a result, we were able to change the way we sold services and improve their delivery.

The feedback and results of this change have been overwhelmingly positive. Clients and employees alike have commented on how cohesive the process now feels, and how they enjoy working with such a close team. We’ve been able to knowledge share through collaborative working, therefore upskilling our staff. Project output has been faster, communication has been better, and therefore the client experience has been even more positive.

Upping and Valuing Communication

Due to the department setup, our internal meetings were frequently separate, barring the need to discuss specific projects. Once we were working from home, we knew that we needed to step up our conversation. We made sure that we had a stand-up call every morning so everybody knew what was going on with their colleagues, as well as offering a chance to ask for updates or information they might need for the day. We knew that we would miss out on celebrating the little successes, so we made sure to share them on calls and via emails to make sure it wasn’t all work and no play.

We then prioritized regular, structured employee progression and performance reviews. This wasn’t something that had never been done, but something that we increased from a bi-annual practice to every three months. Then, to make sure that the team was looked after in their home life as well, we set up business perks and bonus schemes.

This included fun things like free coffees, discounts, and training, as well as things to keep our team healthy, like free private GP consultations at a time when appointments were scarce.

Moving From Bespoke Work to Packaged Services

We’ve talked about this in more detail on our site here, but the Zinc team has always approached our projects in a very bespoke way. We pride ourselves on being able to support our clients with a huge variety of services, but we realized that we were tripping ourselves up in the long run. The pitch and proposal stage was longer than it needed to be because none of the services were standardized.

We replaced our individual services with a focus on packaged ones. Web design was in stepped up numbers of page designs and marketing was in increasing amounts of hours. This allows us to be flexible without needing to spec out every client individually, allowing us to provide ongoing retainers that use all of our services in the same packages.

Clients benefit from a better value for money whilst employees benefit from providing a standard service with the ability to move hours and support the clients as they wish without starting the proposal process all over again. What’s more, we’ve been able to develop long-lasting relationships with our clients.

When we compare the way we’re working now with the way that we were just two years ago, we’ve kept the things that helped us to grow and lost the things that held us back. We’re seeing real results.

When it comes to our service delivery, the addition of better project management and packaged services has made us better at staying on time and on budget. On average our web builds are 25% faster than before. As a result, clients are happier, as well as our employees who are more productive and report higher levels of wellbeing. By adding processes where there were none, stress is reduced and work/life balance is improved.

As an agency, we’re able to rely on our retainer services to maintain a stable income, whilst our one-off works fit well into the schedule to increase the workload. We’re even more profitable, with less reliance on one-off projects.

For agencies that are well-established, Zinc represents a great lesson. You don’t have to be facing huge profit loss or process issues to look at the way you are working and rethink it. The old adage of ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it doesn’t always apply. We were an agency doing well on old processes, but we’re now doing even better. For long-established agencies such as ourselves, we can’t recommend it more.

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