Guest Post: Hack Your Office To Bits by Dan Eastmond

24.09.20

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

Dan Eastmond is Founder and CEO of Firesoft, a disruptive SaaS factory and MD of Firestation Arts & Culture CIC, a
culture focussed social enterprise. His career has taken him from arts co-ops and pirate radio to the music industry,
nightclubs and entertainment venues. From festivals to online communities, galleries and members clubs. He recently launched Wubbub, a web platform revolutionising commissions and submissions for publishers and authors. Here, he sets out some of the technology hacks that could make your job run more smoothly, and more importantly, leave you more time for the bits you enjoy.

A few years ago now, I looked up from my desk and realised I was a bit stressed and a bit miserable at work. This was
weird, because after going through a pretty rough patch we were currently enjoying a really profitable few years, with a
great team and a strong period of growth and innovation.

Being miserable at work is not that unusual I guess, but when you own company and you’re doing well, something's afoot.
After giving it some thought, talking about it with friends and running a daily task diary for a couple of weeks, I found the
problem. I realised that I was hiring people to do all the good stuff and leaving myself to do all the jobs I didn’t really like;
payroll, accounts, forecasting. Whilst everyone else was booking artists, designing marketing campaigns, setting up for
events, I was in the office doing the admin.

It took some time, but I began to slowly reinstate myself into the areas of the business that I loved and was good at. I hired
an office manager, jumped in on a few meetings and as people naturally moved on I broke up their roles and kept the bits I
liked for myself.

All was good in the hood, but the time diary had got me thinking beyond just sorting out my current malais. For a cultural
business, it was amazing how little of our collective time we actually spent on the culture bit, and how much was used up in
email inboxes, spreadsheets, contracts, unproductive meetings and call-waiting.

It was 2010ish though, and the perfect storm of smartphones, fibre broadband and big data was about to change everything.
We’d already moved our accounts to a cloud based package and that had been a revelation (although a bit of a ‘mare to set
up). After years of overspilling invoice folders and line by line reconciliations, switching to a system that brought the whole
lot together was a lifesaver. The magic of automated bank reconciliation is a still a marvel for those of use who remember
doing it the old way. It also saved us a flight case full of time and money.

Shared to-do lists came next, swiftly followed by online staff schedules. Getting rid of the scrawled on rotas from the back
of the bar was great, but the addition of staff-managed shift swapping and automated time sheets saved almost a day a week!
When we couldn’t find an off the shelf system to solve a problem, we started building software in-house, and so began a
side show that would eventually spin out into Firesoft.

Room allocations and private hires came first. They’re particularly nuanced in public venues and none of the available
packages quite cut it. So we hacked our way around Wordpress with a bit of custom PHP and voila! Room and resource
bookings that also spat out reports we could feed straight into our accounts package.

The annoying reality of underpriced sellouts and overpriced turkeys was our next target, a dynamic pricing experiment
which we ran with Monad and Royal Holloway Uni that received Arts Council and AHRC support. This eventually grew
into the (sadly not currently operating) secondary ticketing platform Neon, and my first step into sharing the software we’d
found we needed with other organisations. Neon trialled with the Royal Albert Hall before being crowded out of an already
crowded market.

Which brings us almost up to date. Time tracking apps, shared diaries and customer data tracking are also now firmly part of
the office mix, as is our newest platform Wubbub. Wubbub was born out of my experience of being both a writer of articles,
non-fiction and fiction and a publisher of all the above. Much like ticketing was a few years ago, the process of
commissioning, submitting and publishing written work is often labouring under a mix of old and new technologies, useful
and not-so-useful rules and habits from the 20th century. Wubbub is my way of making all of this better, and it’s pretty
exciting. I can’t plug it here - sshhh - but if you’re a writer or publisher you must come see!

If you’re finding your workdays are all sadmin and no gladmin, or if you’re looking to modernise your office processes and
free up your time for more daiquiris and fun-stuff, here’s my list of essential apps and affordable platforms.

Accounting
Xero - our package of choice, with a clean interface for the non-accountant and easy on/off payroll
Quickbooks - One of the old-timer accounts packages that rescued itself from oblivion with some very nice updates
Starling - the best modern business account as far as I’m concerned, with an inline accounts package and lots of
seriously smart features

Staff management
Karma - nice app to handle all staff advances and subs
Deputy - handle staff schedules and timesheets and push hours straight to your payroll package
PlanDay - more schedule management with a nice app for your employees

Lists
Todoist - Mobile and desktop lists and reminders with loads of team tools
Wunderlist - The generation before Todoist, now owned by Microsoft (which is good if you’re a Mteams person)

Calendars
Google Calendars - still great and still free for shared calendars
Calendly - let your colleagues and clients book the time they want directly into your calendar
Asana - Project focussed shared calendars with lots of plugins and free for teams of up to 15

Time management
Toggl - track your hours to see what you get up to or give accurate reports to colleagues and clients

User tracking
Segment - one line of code to feed all of your analytics packages with data
Amplitude - simple but powerful website user analysis to better understand your traffic
Crazy Egg - lots of user tracking again, but “heat maps” can be a revelation

Publishing
Wubbub - content commissioning and submissions with none of the headaches
Canva - super-quick and easy gifs and videos for all your social media
Roam - a new benchmark in smart note-taking and “networked thought”
Google Optimize - make small tweaks to your site and run A/B tests without changing your core code

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