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Time off to innovate: Good idea or a waste of tech talent?

 relaxGoogle and 3m are well known when it comes to giving the tech team time to follow their interests and explore “free time” to help create remarkable innovations. But if you go to many IT shops now, the idea of giving employees 20% “free time” would be equal to suggesting a fire drill by making an actual fire in the office. Howard Baldwin explores whether giving time off to innovate is something that only a few companies can pull off, or if it's something that all tech companies should be doing regularly. Using insight from Dan Pink's book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Baldwin explains how interest in corporate initiatives to promote innovation are on the rise, and what that can mean for business as a whole. The article goes on to list some pros and cons, such as battling stagnation (pro) and it can spin out of control (con), as well as practical considerations of how much “innovation time” to give:

 One of the hardest factors to determine with an innovation program is its frequency. Among those who currently have such a program, there is little consistency. They range in frequency from a few days a year to one day quarterly to some time every week. One thing seems clear: While “Google 20% time” has become a watchword for innovation time off, that's a gold standard that not many other companies are able to offer. “Some companies simply don't have the luxury to give employees 20% of their week to work this way,” says Williams, noting that for some companies, 10% — essentially, an afternoon each week — is more reasonable.

Baldwin goes on to provide a checklist of best practices on starting an innovation program, with tips like deciding on the percentage of time to give employees, getting management buy in, making participation voluntary, and whether the program would benefit from a rewards system (especially if the innovation time leads to something that propels your company to enormous gains). 

About Anne Grybowski

Anne is a former staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success, with a degree in Media Studies from Penn State University.

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