Sunhouse Creative discuss remote working

How did Sunhouse Creative do during lockdown's remote working?

Were there any positives? What works for them?

Established in 2007, Sunhouse are a specialist strategic, brand and packaging design agency based in Bath. Their varied client list includes: Magnum Ice Cream, Danone, PG tips, Dove and the BBC.

Andrew Smith, their Operations Director, joined them in 2015 when there were 16 employees, and he’s seen them through its growth to 37 'Sunhousers'.

Being a creative, collaborative and time-driven industry, remote working has been a colossal challenge for some agencies. But Sunhouse have enjoyed their best year yet, with sales and utilisation both up by double digits.

Andrew is a big advocate for technology and runs a tight ship process-wise, which afforded Sunhouse a seamless transition to remote working - something he is a big believer in.

“I think a lot of companies weren’t set up for remote working. We went from working in the studio on Thursday, to working from home the next day, and have been running comfortably above pre-lockdown productivity levels ever since.

"The volume, and more importantly quality, of our work never dipped – in fact we saw it increase.”

“As I like to know what’s going on everywhere; what everyone is doing, where all the hours are going, who’s logging in and what they’re creating, you need the right tools and processes in place."

"We’d already established and implemented what needed to achieve this before Covid, so when lockdown hit, our tools [Google Workspace, Synergist and Slack] meant it doesn’t matter where we are to do this."

“I’m pretty sure we couldn’t have delivered the work we’ve done in 2020 if the team weren’t working from home."

Visibility

“For me, the most important commodity within a company is transparency, not only for financial and operational aspects but also your people. I want everyone to know as much as possible about what’s going on every single day. That way, you just find efficiencies, and you discover where the problems are so much quicker. So when I started at Sunhouse, my number one priority was bringing visibility to all areas of Sunhouse through the best tools, processes and structured communications.”

“In 2015 the client services and studio teams were using an Excel spreadsheet to book in projects against designers and artworkers. This was awkward, unclear and definitely not a trusted source of information, never mind that the XLS sheet was prone to corruption if two people opened it at the same time! I discovered that Synergist had an amazing job and timesheet-linked visual resource booking facility. So I tested it in the studio, found it just worked, so quickly transitioned our workflow onto it.”

“It really opens up visibility on what’s going on and how our pipeline is looking. Now we have collaborative bi-weekly workflow meetings around a table (virtually at the moment) with the booking calendar displayed on a big screen. We get our creative and artwork leads involved and can now boast a really nailed down, transparent process that is open, accurate, easy to understand and in real time."

Report by Sunhouse from Synergist data

Utilisation and profit

"The first step into using Synergist’s booking system was a massive time saver for the Studio, and also opened the door to other features in the following months, allowing better quoting, financial reporting, client project tracking and timesheet data collection.”

“From a financial point of view, we’ve been doing more and more with Synergist. People weren’t logging their timesheets at first, so we resolved that and now it’s done daily by everyone.

The timesheet data we’ve got now on our projects is invaluable. It enables us to really see into what’s been going on and what’s coming with every client and team."

“We run monthly reports in Synergist, using a wide range of data which gives us utilisation, profit and return on individual clients, which is something we can’t see in our Xero accounts. We also have weekly meetings with our ‘brand teams’ (client services teams). We use a shared Google Sheet in our weekly reviews, which leverages Synergist data. We all get together and discuss time booked, time used and profit returns on every single job. We use data from Synergist all over the company.”

“And on transparency, we share our net profit with all our client services teams in the weekly brand meetings. They all see the full data for every job and every client they’re working on.

"Some Agencies hide this information from their people. However, if you’re expecting them to do a great job for you and make solid profit, how can they really deliver on this if you decide to partially blindfold them?”

What works for us

“We use Synergist to collect the numbers so we can actually see what’s happening, pretty much real time.

"This has proven much more reliable than going off a gut feel.”

“Synergist shows our utilisation increased by double digits during lockdown, but quality has definitely not suffered, we’ve done a huge amount of really creative work for existing clients and also won a couple of new ones.”

“It’s all about getting workflow running efficiently, which also means getting our estimates as accurate as possible. Synergist has been the hub for us achieving this, allowing us to clearly see the workings of Sunhouse and which parts might need a squirt of oil!”

“But does it work? When you look at our numbers against the DBA annual agency survey, we’re in the top 5% of Agencies in the UK. We’re out performing pretty-much 90-95% of them on most metrics, when you look at things like utilisation, productively, net profit, billing and profit per head, we’re really punchy across the board.”

“And I’m certain that’s because we're NOT actively chasing those numbers. We’re only making a great net profit, because our people are happy, our tech and processes are smoothing sharp edges and everyone is trusted to do their jobs.”

The future of our remote working

“Lots of people have realised they don’t have to get on the train for two hours every day. I think we’ll continue to utilise work from home but I’d imagine maybe a hybrid or rota system. So maybe people are in the studio, two, three, four days a week, depending on what they want and what their role requires. Everyone’s missing the social aspects of studio life, so I don’t think being permanently remote is healthy or sustainable in the longer term.

“From my experience, I think if you’ve got the right systems and processes in place, and you’ve built a workplace underpinned with mutual trust, you’ll get more work, from less of your people's time, and in return they will have a better work life balance. I can’t think of a better example of win, win.”

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