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Google's 20 percent time undergoes rehab

Google's 20 percent time corporate philosophy has undergone some tightening. Is Google being mean or just reacting to the fact that you can't trust everyone with a liberal company policy?

Google is known for its "20 percent time" corporate philosophy. This philosophy (or policy) is supposed to enable engineers to spend one day per week working on projects that aren't necessarily in their job descriptions.

According to one blog, Google is cracking down on just what employees can work on during that 20 percent time. The first step was introducing Gmail Labs — a digital playground for Google employees to develop new features for Gmail only. According to the valleywag blog, this action perverts the original intent of 20 percent time, and lets Google employees "innovate, but only in tiny sandboxes; on core products, and not on big new ideas." The blog says that employees are finding it harder to get their side projects approved.

I am of a couple of minds about this. First of all, I don't understand how one can assign a time percentage to creativity. It seems like an oxymoron... a "creative schedule" or "window of creativity." Isn't the nature of creativity more freeform?

I think it was a noble effort on Google's part, but it's also a dangerous one. Speaking for myself, given the opportunity, I'd be more than likely to devote more of my "off the clock" time to a creative pursuit that challenges me than I am to regular duties. You have to be assured that your workforce is a pretty self-disciplined bunch to give them the keys to that car.

Even the employees quoted in the valleywag blog admit that the crackdown on the 20 percent time happened in part because employees were so focused on those projects that they were letting the schedules on their main projects slide.

As in the case with most liberal and innovative corporate policies, a lack of structure or definition can cause problems. Have you ever been unfortunate enough to work at a place with a liberal dress code? There's always that one person who comes in wearing a tube top, which results in a Dress Code v. 2.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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