Google: The end of 20% time?

by Cameron Edmond21 Aug 2013

Google made headlines in the past for its 20% time policy, which allowed employees to spend one day a week on an individual project. This initiative gave rise AdSense, as well as Gmail and other hallmarks of the Google brand. However, it is now disappearing.

Previously, Google began requiring engineers to get approval from their managers to take the 20% time. More recently, upper management has discouraged managers from approving any 20% - possibly due to the internal analytics team which measures employees’ productivity. Managers are gauged on the productivity of their teams, and the process assumes employees are working on their primary responsibilities every day.

Since Google unveiled its 20% time policy, many other organisations have adopted similar measures, such as Atlassian’s ShipIt Days.

“Our ShipIt Days happen four times a year. Everyone drops what they’re doing and works on an innovative project of their choice. Then at 12pm the next day they present it to the rest of the organisation,” Joris Luijke, VP of talent at Atlassian, explained.

“We’ve had hundreds of projects being shipped as a direct result of these innovations. From an organisational perspective it’s important to innovate our business; but secondly staff love doing it as well. They get the freedom to not just work on the tasks assigned to them but also look beyond that. That’s how we train our organisation to stay innovative.”

Luijke told HC that his organisation was receptive to new ideas. The culture of Atlassian fosters creativity and innovation, but he acknowledges not all are like that. “If you introduce a new performance review methodology or you introduce a new way to hire new staff, but people are not receptive, it will die,” he said.


What do you think of the 20% time initiatives, and Google’s seemingly ‘phasing-out’ of it?


  • by Peter 22/08/2013 9:26:53 AM

    the response to phase it out because of analytics seems to be a bit lacking in innovative thinking "baby and bathwater" comes to mind.
    Where is the flexibility, how much pressure are the upper managers under...???

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