Does Your Company Embrace the Employee Side Project?

By Robert Half on February 24, 2016 at 1:00pm

Would your company allow an employee to work on a creative side project on the clock? While research from The Creative Group shows many companies are in favor of offering playtime during office hours, it seems few actually do.

Does all work and no play make for a dull and stressful day? Yes, according to many creative managers. Nearly four in 10 advertising and marketing executives surveyed by The Creative Group said it’s OK for employees to engage in non-work-related activities, like pursuing a side project or perusing the Web, during business hours in order to boost creativity. When asked the maximum amount of time that should be permissible each day, the average response was 28 minutes.

Playtime at work: Real or ideal?

While it seems many employers agree that a playtime or side project policy has merit, I was curious to know how many actually offer one – and why. I’d heard of Google’s famous “20% time,” Microsoft’s Garage program and Atlassian’s ShipIt Days, but tracking down agencies and in-house departments that give employees time to tackle a side project during business hours proved harder than I anticipated. In fact, a call for submissions on social media came up dry.

Fortunately, I did connect with two companies that prove playtime policies do exist.

“Open Space” at Stride

“Playtime” isn’t a new concept for Stride cofounder and CEO Debbie Madden, although she doesn’t use that term. She’s been offering the perk for 12 years. “I consider it an opportunity for employees to experiment, learn and improve themselves as professionals,” she explains.

Every three months, Stride holds a full-day “Open Space” meeting for staff to gather, learn from one another and develop new company policies. Each Stride employee also receives $1,000 and one week per year to pursue professional development. To top it off, employees can spend up to 10 hours per week creating content, such as open-source tools and blog posts.

The rewards have been immense. “We’ve seen remarkable outcomes as a result of giving employees time and resources to pursue professional development,” says Madden. “For example, Stride has contributed to numerous open-source projects, built several in-house tools and learned a slew of new technologies.” Stride employees are happy, too, which aids recruitment and retention efforts. “We have no turnover and 5-star Glassdoor reviews,” Madden adds.

Hackweek at Spredfast

Spredfast is another company that embraces the employee side project. Twice a year, staff at Spredfast are invited to step away from their desks and participate in Hackweek. Meetings are cancelled and employees form teams to work on a side project of their choosing. The company provides breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as treats like soft serve ice cream and beer on tap. “It’s a time to celebrate, bond and get the creativity flowing,” says Tom Grochowicz, an engineering manager and Hackweek advocate, organizer and participant.

While the event sounds like one big party, new products and features have been developed as a result of Hackweek activities, like Intelligence, a social analytics tool. Courtney White, director of global communications, also says Hackweek encourages collaboration across the organization. “When companies grow, employees naturally start working in silos,” White says. “Spredfast is so committed to supporting creativity and teamwork that we’re willing to close business to do so.”(Photo courtesy of Spredfast.)

The program has been so popular that Spredfast launched Hackfast, a weekly event where employees gather in the kitchen or lounge and work on side projects they’re passionate about. “It’s completely optional, but there’s always a good turnout,” Grochowicz says.

A final thought on the employee side project

With competition for creative talent fierce, companies must work hard to recruit and retain the professionals they seek. Offering competitive salaries is important, but fostering a positive work culture is equally crucial. While playtime or side project perks seem less common today, they will likely rise in popularity.

Check out the infographic below and then let us know what you think. Does your company give employees time to pursue side projects at work?

Encouraging creative playtime or side projects is an attractive perk that can help with retention and recruitment. For more on this topic, read our post How to Highlight Your Workplace Culture to Attract Top Creative Talent.

Playtime at Work

28 minutes: Maximum amount of time, on average, employees should be allowed to pursue side projects or peruse the Internet each day

Is it OK for employees to engage in non-work-related activities during business hours in order to boost creativity?

YES: 38%

NO: 53%

Don't know/no answer: 9%

Source: The Creative Group survey of more than 400 U.S. marketing and advertising executives

© 2016 The Creative Group. A Robert Half Company. An Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/Disability/Veteran.

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