The Power and Potential of Encouraging Personal Projects in the Workplace

The Power and Potential of Encouraging Personal Projects in the Workplace

Standout employees are usually dedicated, efficient and skillful, fast learners; but they also have another thing in common – a side project. With businesses now recognising the importance of keeping staff happy – studies show these employees to be 12 per cent more productive for starters – one of the more recent tactics to support employees in this regard is encouraging them to actively explore, develop and share their passion projects on company time.

In previous years it was widely believed that side projects were a distraction and went against potential candidates if listed on their resume or communicated throughout the recruitment process. However, what went unappreciated was the range of potential benefits that can come from giving staff the freedom to openly work independently on something they’re interested in.

Google is one company leading the way in this area with all employees given the option (and encouraged) to spend one day a week – 20 percent of their work week – on a personal side project while at work.

The overall results are more energetic, productive and happy employees which leads to a more profitable and innovative business.

The benefits of allowing staff to do side projects

CEO and Founder of Ph Creative Bryan Adams tried the Google 20 per cent rule in his business and these were the benefits and learnings he discovered:

Success at every level

If you want to build a successful company, you need to breed a culture of success at every level. This means recognising that some of your more “junior” staff might actually have some great ideas up their sleeves, which is something that can come out of side projects.


Great leaders know how to delegate responsibility and let go of outcomes. That’s why the 20 per cent rule works, because it teaches employees about the weight of responsibility. Responsibility falls on the individual or team, who must exercise complete control over the project’s success or failure (and learn from it retrospectively).

Cost Effective

It pays to have driven, happy employees. Studies have shown that unhappy employees cost American businesses up to $550 billion each year. Conversely, happy workers are 12 per cent more productive than the average worker. Committing to one day per week for staff to do staff projects can go a long way to impacting your bottom-line.


20 per cent time is a great way to break down office barriers. Employees that work in completely different departments might find shared interests that help them gain a better understand of their colleagues and their work.


The 20 per cent rule doesn’t mean every single idea you create is going to be a success. In all likelihood, most will never make it past the development stage. It’s within these failures that people are given the opportunity to grow, develop and learn.

Idea Sharing

The Google Sky project is a great example of idea sharing at its finest. A number of Google engineers discovered a shared passion for astronomy. These employees starting talking to each other and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could turn the Google Earth cameras up to the sky?” Over time, the engineers built a product that we now know as Google Sky.

Employee Retention

Millennials who feel they’re at a great workplace are twenty-five times more likely to plan a long-term future at that company. The 20 per cent rule is a great way to keep staff engaged, excited and focused – giving them a break from their other tasks which can become boring and monotonous. When you put power in your employees’ hands, you’re saying that you value and trust them to create something meaningful which is incredibly engaging.


84 per cent of consumers say it’s somewhat or very important that the company they buy from is innovative. Innovation doesn’t have to start from the top. If you’re stuck for thought, implementing the 20 per cent rule can quickly bring about a flurry of new ideas. Managers can then help decide what will likely work for the company and what won’t.


Mindset is important for company growth and if you’re a business that wants to succeed and innovate, you need to foster a can-do attitude. Allowing employees to spend Fridays on a personal project helps build a growth mindset, because they’re working on something that’s tangible, real, and most importantly, created by them.


Research from Columbia Business School has shown that 92 per cent of employees believe improving their firm’s corporate culture would improve the value of the company. 20 percent time can act as a clear message to your employees: We believe in you, you’re an integral part of our culture, and we want you to succeed and follow your passions.

Additionally, the process of working on a side project can also help staff to learn new skills and master new tools independently, leading to greater confidence and capability in their ordinary daily work. They can also help identify unlikely leaders and idea makers that might not have been discovered otherwise.

Tips for incorporating personal projects into your workplace

Keen to start allowing staff to get creative on the side? Here are some tips to help ensure the process is as effective as possible:

  1. Set the rules – while this seems like it’s going against the concept, it’s important to have guidelines in place. For example, a side project on company time can’t be learning to skateboard. It needs to be related to the business in some capacity, and ideally, develop a skill that can be applied to the company. Be clear also about how much time they’re allowed to spend on it during work hours – try one day or even half a day a week.
  2. Encourage but don’t force – let staff know that they have the option to do a side project but only if they want to. Don’t force them to do it, give them the freedom and flexibility to make their own decisions to help improve time and account management.
  1. Empower don’t micromanage – it’s important to trust that your employees will give 100 per cent. Give staff the freedom to work exclusively on something they’re passionate about but don’t mico-manage or dictate every minute of that 20 percent time or it will stymy growth.
  1. Assist and share outcomes – help employees to stay on track with their projects by offering advice or other assistance when they ask for it and have an end goal and timeframe in mind. Most importantly encourage staff to update others on their progress and the outcomes of the side project when finished.

Thanks to for their insights on workplace side projects which were used to write this article.