I want to sound you out about time. More specifically, billing, prompted by a recent article in the current edition of Business Week.

And what's happened to Business Week?  I was so confused by the format changes that I decided to Google the reason for it, and we're told the redesign is inspired by the design imperatives of the Web.

But, not being funny or anything, if I wanted Web I'd go to businessweek.com. Surely, if print is threatened by the big WWW, then differentiation is the key to success, not assimilation?

Anyway... time.

The article "Shirking Working: The War on Hooky" focuses, as the title suggests, predominantly on dealing with the relatively modern (as in decades) phenomena of so-called sickies. But there's a quote towards the end from IBM's Dan Pelino on the wider issue of judging-by-results and not the ticking of the minute hand: "Tracking time is passé; we could never go back."  Even Best Buy has adopted an approach whereby "employees are evaluated on their output, not their hours."

How does this translate to marketing communications consultancies?

Whilst I might find a few minutes in the month to chew this over, I was reminded of a blog I stumbled across a few weeks ago by a lady called Sam Ladner who has dedicated years to the subject.  She is undertaking a PhD in "Work, Time and Interactive Agencies", with this preface:

"The notion of "billable hours" makes interactive agencies intriguing places to study work and time. Like law firms, interactive agencies rely on billing their clients for the work their workers complete. This practice -- which requires detailed tracking of hours, projects, and budgets of time -- conflicts with what we know about creative work.

Creative work typically requires focused, intensive, and often undirected time. Where might this fit with the model of billable hours?"

If you have the time, no pun intended, then this post on her blog is a good place to begin to understand her rationale and conclusions.  In short, she feels that "billable hours" are history (oooh, another pun).

If I can try to condense her PhD into a couple of sentences:

1. Time and results aren't linked in creative agency, so the only reason to log time is to demonstrate effort to the client

2. However, all time sheets are inaccurate without exception, and everyone knows it, so time sheets serve to teach workers to internalize billable time, whereby billable is good and non-billable is bad.

I'm going to discuss this with my colleagues and industry contacts and come back with a follow-up post. Love your input if you have any thoughts...