If you’re unfamiliar and you don’t feel much like clicking the above link, 20% time is…
“…a well-known part of our philosophy here [at Google], enabling engineers to spend one day a week working on projects that aren’t necessarily in our job descriptions.”
It’s well publicised that 20% time has been a significant contributing factor in giving us some of the Google products that we know and love today, so I hope for that reason that these rumors aren’t true. Regardless of that though, 20% time does seem at odds with the way the modern world works.
I’ve blogged a couple of times about ROWE so I’ll do my best not to digress into a further soliloquy about its merits here, but suffice to say I don’t measure my work in terms of time anymore. Allotting 20% of my time to projects that aren’t necessarily in my job description would be nearly impossible for me - not necesarilly because my organization wouldn’t allow it, but because I don’t know that I could figure out what 20% of my time is.
I’ve never worked somewhere with a policy of 20% time similar to Google, but that’s irrelevant. ROWE offers me something much better. I’m essentially free to use my time however I wish as long as the work gets done, and for me “20% projects” are absolutely a part of that.
Just because these 20% projects (as I’ll keep referring to them) aren’t right out of my job description doesn’t mean they aren’t work related, but they do offer me the freedom to try new things without fear of failure, and that leads to some great innovation (it leads to some failures and dead ends too, but that’s the point - it doesn’t matter).
I plan to blog some more about the gritty technical details in the not too distant future, but I’ve recently built a dashboard web-app on top of SharePoint using jQuery and SPServices. People love it, and it’s greatly increased my stock at work over the last few days. If my boss had come to me and asked me in a formal setting to develop this I don’t know if I’d have touched it. If it were a formal project from the start we’d have had to get IT to build it for us, probably at great expense. I, by contrast, learned how to do this stuff as I went along, and when I started work on it I had no idea if I’d be able to bring things to a successful conclusion.
My hope for my organization as ROWE becomes more of a popularised concept and way of working is that it encourages and enables other people to try new things - filter out the noise, spend less time doing and more time thinking. It worked for me, and it can work for you too.