20% Time: Benefits of making your staff work on their own projects

20% Time: Benefits of making your staff work on their own projects

John Hewick

Time invested has been so long related to productivity and outputs that we even have a common saying based around the idea. So it’s understandable to think that paying your employees to do what they want sounds somewhat disconcerting—if not totally ludicrous.

However, there is one trend currently sweeping across corporate America that enables employees to take around 8 hours a week off from their normal duties, and work on anything they want (within limits). It’s called ‘20% Time’.

The trend took off at Google—although the idea has been around for nearly a decade and was originally spearheaded at 3M. Google simply gave it a name and made it fashionable. But it’s not all talk, Google have stated that some of their best innovations have been made by employees in this time (some sources state Gmail was born out of an idea formed in 20% time).

So how does it all work, and how do you get started? Well, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Google have a culture of their own, built around everything from professionally prepared meals to on-site dry cleaning. With their structure and available amenities, it makes it possible and also comfortable to come to work early and stay late.

That goes to say, just because something works at Google, doesn’t mean it will work for your company. If you are still operating under baby boomer guidelines, are involved in mass production, or are already short of time or staff, you may want to give this trend a miss.

But if you are a creative company or one which prioritises innovation, and you have the right environment to try it in, 20% time could be an advantageous move for you.

The limits of the program do mean your employees won’t be wasting away the hours watching Youtube videos. To stay within the guidelines, they need to be working on new projects that can benefit the company in some way, shape or form. Let’s take a brief look at some more reasons for giving it a go:

As much as 50% of Google’s services have their roots in the company’s 20% time, indicating this type of time is a great way to foster innovation and generate new ideas.

By allowing employees to choose their own projects, you are empowering them to work on something they care about. Contrary to initial beliefs about the program, the extra trust and added passion goes along way in boosting productivity.

A lot of company time already goes down the drain due to inefficiency and procrastination. Incorporating this type of program into an employees workflow can offer them a welcome break from the usual routine, and thus a designated time to slack off productively.

The 20% time program can seem counterproductive in the short term, but with a bit of time and patience can bring huge payoffs. Assess your company for its compatibility with such a scheme, and try testing the waters with a 5 or 10% time pilot program first.

John Hewick

Author John Hewick

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