Hackernoon logoSkyeng’s In-house Services: Doing More With Less by@yanchauskayte

Skyeng’s In-house Services: Doing More With Less

Maria Yanchauskayte Hacker Noon profile picture

@yanchauskayteMaria Yanchauskayte

Developer relations manager at Skyeng - EdTech company

Managers often have to do simple routine work or master new fields — such as analytics — on the go. This results in exhausted managers trying to find time for everything and doing a worse job than they could. But we’ve found a way to solve both problems. Skyeng co-founder Denis Smetnev tells the story.

Currently, there are several internal services at Skyeng that make employees’ lives easier.

  • Administrative Assistance. This is where you go if you’re simply understaffed and need some easy tasks performed, like transcribing an audio recording or sorting data in Excel. 
  • Content Production. A team that produces designs, text, videos, and all kinds of creative projects for the whole company on demand.
  • Analysts. If someone needs to set up and configure web analytics for a website, they can assign this work to people who specialize in it.
  • Shared team. Developers you can involve in your project.

Every Skyeng manager can use these services in their work. The important thing is to justify their value for the business. How do these teams work? Is every project economically and procedurally successful? Why don’t we outsource? Let’s start at the beginning.

How and why we came up with the internal services

All the services that help us formed on their own. We didn’t sit down and think of starting a service from scratch. Still, on a certain level it was a conscious development. Our initial experience was with the administrative assistance service.

I hired my first assistants when I began doing quality control. The job was to listen to operators’ conversations and fill out checklists, check off boxes. I knew I wouldn’t manage that on my own, and besides it wasn’t the kind of work to spend my time on. 

Any manager has a ton of diverse tasks to do. But some of those tasks are low-level. They don’t require expert knowledge, or special skills, or experience, or an MBA. They’re things like putting together a list of groups to advertise in, transcribing an interview, or transferring data into a table. 

A manager could do all that, but then they’d be wasting precious time on work they’re overqualified for. After all, an hour of a manager’s work is worth much more than an hour of an assistant’s work. If a manager who makes 3000₽ an hour spends two hours on filling out a table, it’ll be worth its weight in gold.

Skyeng’s administrative assistance service

  • 25 employees
  • 3,660 work hours per month
  • 1,600,000₽ saved per month

An employee of Skyeng can assign any simple job to an assistant. Instead of a personal assistant, there is an entire service that receives assignments from all the company’s departments through a single window. Almost 50% of each month’s tasks boil down to searching for and analyzing information and processing data. The work of every expert involves many such tasks.

Assistants help us do more work in less time, while we help them get started in IT. Many of the assistants end up joining the main staff. In 2020, 22 people out of 25 received such a promotion, becoming content marketers, designers, project managers, heads of teaching groups, SMM managers, and even team leaders. For example, one HR department is headed by Lyuda Hart, a former assistant. 

The assistance service is more than 3 years old. We have clearly worked out every process, and the economy of this project is wholly transparent. We can always see the hours spent on a task and compare the salaries of managers and assistants. In the end, everyone is happy: the managers don’t suffer from the routine and the assistants grow into experts.

Recently, we began loaning our assistants out to other companies. Now their services are being utilized by Netology, IIDF, Legion Farm, MelScience. Our internal development has become a commercial product. 

Content Production at Skyeng

  • 1,000 tasks per month
  • 43 employees, not including freelancers

It was in much the same way that we recently launched our internal creative agency: the Content Production department. A long time ago, we hired some terrific marketers, but the quality of our Facebook advertising remained horrendous anyway. We realized that a good internet marketer will not necessarily be a good creator, designer, or copywriter. We needed to systemize the process to help our crew and our image.

To produce designs and text of equal quality, we launched Content Production: an internal service that helped marketers come up with advertising. Initially, we even called it Content Factory.

Today this service generates content not just for the marketing department, but for the whole company. From small tasks like images, presentations, and text we have graduated to large-scale interteam projects like creating a brand platform and launching a show on YouTube. 

We produce designs, text, and videos for all kinds of purposes. We launch, test, and develop media projects. In these areas, we are the standard-bearers within Skyeng and Skysmart.

Certain tasks can be outsourced. For example, you can hire a writer for a landing page. They may know their way around a landing page, but be incapable of writing a PR piece. But when you’ve got a pool of Content Production writers, you can pick a person who specializes in a particular topic. You won’t have to look for someone every single time: a manager can get a person with necessary experience — or even a team of experts — through a single window. 

As part of their work, every Skyeng employee can order content that will be created by professional designers, editors, copywriters, content producers, writers, cinematographers, and video editors. Managers can thus save a great deal of time on looking for a contractor or trying to do the work on their own, and receive a genuinely high-quality product. 

Skyeng’s analytics service

  • 4 employees
  • 147 tasks per month

People would often come to analysts with requests like, “How do I calculate this?”, or “Help me configure landing page analytics.” This was a distraction for the main analytics team. But, since the inquiries were simple, the team allotted them to a go-to person who would address them quickly. Later this became a service, one the analysts are prepared to share with clients today. 

The opposite happened with the Market and User Research department. At one point it, too, functioned as a service: anyone could come there and order a study of the market or of customers’ behavior. Initially we had two subdivisions: Market Research, which functioned as a single structural unit, was not tied to any team and performed tasks on demand, and User Research, in which all the researchers were attached to, and only took assignments from, their respective product teams. 

Last year, Market Research got more or less disbanded. The simple reason was that the assignments dried out: where at one point everything that happened at Skyeng used to be a mystery for the company, over the years we’ve made everything transparent, analyzed the markets, worked out a development strategy and figured out what to launch. At this stage we don’t need strategic research — only assistance in launching new divisions. We decided that this would be best accomplished from within those projects. Ideally, every structure would have its own Market Research departments, which is how it’s done with User Research. But the general Market Research department is no longer functioning, and its employees are now in other positions within the company. 

Why sometimes you can’t avoid outsourcing.
Shared Team:

  • 11 developers
  • 302 tasks so far this year

For the entirety of 2020, we had another service: Shared Team. This is a standby team of developers who can become involved with a project at any stage. The team initially had two types of clients: product teams that needed to go over and above the plan, and non-product teams that didn’t have developers of their own but needed to automate something, build a bot, etc. 

As time passed, the team’s resources stopped being enough to cover every demand, the developers’ workload grew exponentially, and it became unclear which tasks to prioritize. By the year’s end we finally decided to turn to external resources; in this case it was justified. 

We made our deals not with standalone freelancers but with companies that have some of their developers standing idle, so we’re just buying out their time. But for subcontracting to work, it’s important to organize technical supervision of the outside employees. They’re not alone with the work; Skyeng’s team leaders fully supervise the tasks and onboard the developers. In other words, the workforce is external while the management is ours.

As of early 2021, that’s the plan. But none of it is set in stone. We’ll see if this approach works and, perhaps, we’ll make other changes. No need to fear compromise and new ideas; you have to look for the optimal solution.

Internal services as a superpower

One of the most stressful things for a manager is to put a team together. To figure out who you need, whether the people you’ve got are competent or not. It’s challenging, and it requires a lot of resources. And when you always have established teams at the ready, that really pumps you up. 

You’ve noticed by now that there are two types of services at Skyeng. The assistants are there to take the weight off highly skilled employees’ shoulders, enabling them to not do work any junior employee can handle. Their value is in saving skilled employees’ time and energy for us. 

Meanwhile, Сontent Production and developers are an extra power to be engaged. They are people with a great deal of expertise. They don’t just mechanically perform their tasks; they get deeply involved in them and influence business processes. They are capable of saying, “No, your idea isn’t gonna work. It won’t solve the problem. You have to approach it from a different angle,” and then coming up with an alternative.

So our skilled employees are rid of the routine and have at their disposal a team of professionals they could never hire on their own. Who, in turn, do quality work on a turn-key basis.

Why, in the end, do we develop our services internally? It sounds paradoxical, but it’s easier that way. 

  • Speedy onboarding. In order to do quality work, people need to be immersed into our process. Skyeng employees know all about it, whereas we’d have to explain it to outsourcers.
  • Data security. We would need to grant outsourcers access to every system, make sure the data is secure, and remember to revoke access once the job is done. Granting access to data always means the risk of a leak. The only way to avoid that is to not entrust outsiders with something that may leak. Especially if it’s something that can impact the brand and its reputation.
  • Workload management. Internal services, unlike freelancers, can always be relied upon. A freelancer could disappear or turn down the job at any moment. When we assign the work to our services, we always know it’ll be done on time.
  • Financial gain. You could hire an assistant or a designer, but if they had only one client within the company, they’d be underutilized. It’s expensive and disadvantageous to keep a motion designer employed if they’re not 100% occupied.
  • Work on a turn-key basis. Managers don’t have to waste time communicating. Our services mean a single entry point and a black box. Once a manager has brought in the assignment, they know it’ll be done, and they don’t have to care about how.
  • Quality standardization. We set our own rules. We have a single standard that’s applied to the work of our analysts, designers, assistants and content producers. This way, we can guarantee everyone who comes to us the same level of service.

Right now, we can definitely state that our internal services are beneficial for the company. But a service’s effectiveness grows in parallel with the number of its clients, when it’s utilized by your colleagues from other departments and not just you. As a service gains scale, the cost of creating a unit of content becomes lower. If all these workers were in different teams, we would need more of them, and they would cost the company more while working less efficiently. 

We often go to analysts, developers, and the Content Production crew when we ourselves lack the necessary expertise. A manager can’t know and be able to do everything; that’s okay. But together we are a force to be reckoned with.

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