Imagine if you were able to spend 20% of your day, or one day out of the week, working on whatever you’d like?

Though it may seem ridiculous for most managers to consider this, it is something that has led to many innovations and advances in different fields.

The basis is simple, have an employee (or group) take some time every week to work on something that will benefit the company.

Though a lot of progressive companies have started to apply these programs at their offices, a lot of businesses have avoided them due to fear of loafing.

Having employees slack off is a legitimate concern, however, if companies do their best to avoid having disengaged employees, the problem becomes non-existent.

Here are some of the reasons that 20 percent time should be a requirement for companies looking to innovate.

Requires Putting On A Thinking Hat

Though it may seem radical now, the first initiative of its kind was done by 3M way back in 1948. They began a 15 percent program for their employees, at a time when the United States was recovering from the second World War.

Though it’s a bit dramatic at the time, the company began using “Innovate or die” as their mentality towards their competition.

The company kept steady and had a lot of great inventions, then in 1974, they struck gold (or highlighter yellow), 3M’s 15 percent time came up with its most profitable invention yet. Scientist Art Fry cleverly came up with a concept of applying an adhesive on a paper to bookmark pages.

With a little bit of magic and elbow grease, he came up with something now known as the “Post-It-Note.” That’s right, the sticky piece of paper used in offices all over the world was designed during someone’s “creation time” at work.

If all companies partook in this initiative, who knows what kinds of innovations and creations could have been invented.

15 percent time is extended to everyone. Who knows who’ll create the next Post-It Note?

To this day, 3M has kept the 15 percent time alive and well. The company believes that everybody, from the scientists to the marketers, can come up with unique processes by giving them innovation time.

The notion of 20 percent time at work was made popular by the companies out in Silicon Valley, specifically, the folks at Google made it a phenomenon.

It has led to some of the biggest advancements on the web today, things like GoogleMaps, Gmail, Google Transit, AdSense, and the popular Google Reader, were all made in 20 percent time.

Some of the companies we have spoken to in the past have told us some stories about employees running projects on their own and allowing people to come up with something that will enable them to work easier.

Off the top of my head, Shopify comes to mind as an innovative company that wants their employees to come up with great stuff for the product and the company.

They have an excellent software that was made in-house called “Unicorn” that allows employees to recognize other employees, and award bonuses to people based on who they thought performed the best.

Something that does not necessarily affect their product allowed them to feel more empowered and passionate about what they do and gave more feedback loops to employees.

That is the real goal of having the alone time to work and innovate; having the power to create and make others passionate about what they do.

Time To Get Creative

Realistically, workers will not spend 100 percent of their time at work doing work. There will be other things to distract them from tasks and typical colleague-to-colleague interactions, that’ll keep them away from their work.

One of the benefits of having a set time to “loaf” or work on a side project is that it will get the creative juices flowing. People often forget that the brain is a muscle, and they need to train it.

When people are restrained to do repetitive tasks and not able to create, their output won’t remain consistent in time. The more redundant and, dare I say, comfortable work becomes, the more likely it is for employees to get burned out and fear change.

20% Time Is Great For Innovation!

As mentioned earlier, a lot of great creations have come from prestigious companies that have implemented this strategy.

So, how is it not the norm?

We would like to believe that it has something to do with the fact that managers may not necessarily trust their employees with these kinds of initiatives.

Though its earliest form was in the early 1900’s, for some reason it is still considered radical.

A forward-thinking company will probably study some of the businesses that have used this kind of initiative and see the benefits.

One would have to assume that the major “problem” is that it is taking up 1/5th of the time that employees are spending at work. However, if it is bringing value to the company, the employees or the customer, the ROI is massive.

A new project can be created, a new system can be implemented, at the very least someone will gain a new skill that they would have not typically learned. The program relies on trust and execution.

If you work with staff that has a lot of different roles, who knows what all of you can come up with when you’re not working on your main tasks at work.

Creates More Value Around Workdays

The last point is that it bring more value to a workday.

If you’re talking about something that will boost satisfaction and increase engagement, there’s no better way than workers having full control of their time.

There might not be data to prove it on a large scale, but for the companies that have these programs, their employees tend to be happier and enjoy working on their side project, a lot.

Often, workers will treat it as a little startup and find it to be even more exciting and valuable than what they’re currently working on.

The best example would be the folks who created GoogleTransit, a service that helped people find out metro/train times. It eventually ended up becoming a part of GoogleMaps after it spent time as a standalone product.

The team that created it treated it as their own project, so much so, that they even went on to work on it way more that just their allotted “20%” period. They kept going into the nighttime, burning the midnight oil; which proves that as long as people are passionate about it, they will embrace it.

Just make sure that HR managers set a good policies and procedures around the program, and that it can be measured to see the full benefits of having it.

Better Resources, Better Results!

People have a lot more access to a wide variety of resources on the internet, so who knows what people can come up with if they do some research and master a subject.

We could see new types of technologies, software, forms of transportation, and depending on the tech at your office, new 3D-printed creations.

If there was ever a time to start a 20% time at work, it would be now. Nearly everything can be found on the web, and it is up to people to get their creative juices flowing and come up with new ideas.

Your Thoughts On 20 Percent Time At Work?

Is it too intense for your company to try out? Do you think management will give it a shot? Let us know @Officevibe on Twitter. If you currently have a similar process at your workplace, let us know how you use your creative time.