I'M SURE if you look up the word ‘timesheet' in the dictionary, at least on a few occasions you'll see the description written as:
(noun): swearword commonplace in many a UK office. Bane of life. Likely to cause lots of sighing. Method of keeping boss happy while driving everyone else crazy...
Or is that just my dictionary?
I can remember the first time I was introduced to the concept of a timesheet, in my early enthusiastic days as an accounts junior. The very idea of it made complete sense. Of course the company would want to track time I was spending on client work. Of course my employer wanted a method of tracking profitability against fees. Of course the industry favours a reputation for accountability.
It did, however, have a tendency to feel rather Big Brother at times and as though the focus was on the number of hours spent, rather than the quality.
The whole concept takes a fair bit of getting used to when you're new to the field - wondering how you capture that five minute loo-break, or the pause you have to hear Susie update you on her traumatic love life, or whether ‘taking precisely 48 minutes to fix the sodding photocopier' was a justified inclusion on the sheet.
Putting the customer first?
But it was once I'd established Miller Wash, then seeing timesheets through the eyes of the employer that I started to debate whether they're a valuable asset - or an unhelpful deviation which does little to improve customer service.
I'm not against timesheets per se, and as they're required by the ICAEW they're a feature in my firm. However, I question the extent to which they should be used to determine how much to bill a client and I would really challenge the perceived benefits of micro managing staff and grading clients based on recovery rates.
I think there's a real danger we can be so bogged down analysing the numbers and trying to push that client recovery rate up to 80% or squeeze our staff to get their chargeable hours higher than last year, that spending time keeping clients and staff happy falls right down the priority list.
What I believe is that happy staff are motivated, and therefore productive. They make clients happier. Which makes clients loyal.
I think we could see a new shift in that world of tracking, as it's not escaped my attention that a quick shifty through the App Store and there's easily some 500 apps for the general art of timesheeting.
Just like I've an app to track the miles I walked the dog this morning, the food and alcohol units I consumed in a rather indulgent weekend last month, or the money I've saved toward that dream holiday I WILL one day take - now I can track the hours of my staff and myself on my smartphone too.
So does that mean technology says the concept is future-proof and we'll all learn to love it because we can do it more easily via our phones and devices?
I'm not sure about that.
What I do know, is that if we stay too fixated on the clock at the expense of looking after our clients, and do not focus more on the output of our time than the time we input, then no amount of technical tracking wizardry is going to safeguard client retention.
We may be in a numbers game, but we should certainly be in a human one too.
Cara Miller, recently voted Young Business Person of the Year for Suffolk, runs Miller Wash alongside Colin Wash. She writes regularly on the issues affecting the profession, from her position as an ambitious practice owner
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