Creating a Workplace Play Policy

Can cutting back your staff's billable hours with workplace playtime increase their productivity and output during the rest of the week? Google thinks so.

workplace play policy
Google’s 20 per cent time allows employees to play with ideas outside of their formal job description.

Can cutting back your staff’s billable hours with workplace playtime increase their productivity and output during the rest of the week? Google thinks so.

Our firm is setting aside 10 per cent of each staff member’s workweek as creative or exploratory time. The concept is modelled after Google’s famous 20 per cent time where employees are given one day a week to work on a project of their choice that doesn’t fall within their formal job description.

The biggest challenge for me isn’t getting over the idea of reducing my staff’s billable time, but getting over the idea of knocking back my own billable hours. As an owner, it feels even harder to spend my nine to five on anything other than client work or management tasks. And while I recognize the intangible value of creative time, it’s not an easy leap to take. There are also two concrete outcomes we’re hoping to reap from this new policy: Innovation and satisfaction.

Employee innovation

I’m not necessarily expecting patentable products or ideas, but I am expecting innovative new approaches to everyday work. By thinking outside the constraints of client budgets, deadlines, and prescribed deliverables, our staff will have the freedom to go places that their everyday work bars them from exploring. Google and the BBC report getting a lot of innovation that can be applied to the rest of their organizations’ core work. From my own problem solving experience, I know that the trickiest problems are often solved with distance and breathing room. I like to think of them as the solutions that come to you in the shower – or as the phenomenon is known in psychoanalytic circles, “The Creative Pause.”

Our hope is that staff will be able to devise creative solutions during their 10 per cent time that will allow them to work smarter during their billable time.

Employee satisfaction

Keeping employees happy is one of the cornerstones of running a business. As any manager knows, it costs more to hire new employees than to retain good ones. Having the right people on board and retaining their employment is one of the greatest assets that any company can cultivate. As a smaller firm, we know a big salary isn’t our competitive edge, but by valuing our staff’s time and thirst for creative thinking, I’m hoping we’ll be able to retain and continue to attract top-notch experts.

I’m excited to see what my staff get out of the process and how this policy will breath new life into the next decade of my entrepreneurial journey. Do you have any similar policies in your workplace?