Why Google Axed Its “20% Time” Policy

Even before removing the policy, engineers had been discouraged from using company time for independent projects.

Why Google Axed Its “20% Time” Policy

The policy that gave rise to some of Google’s most iconic products–Gmail, Google Reader, Google Talk, and more–is being axed.

Employees previously used the search giant’s 20% time perk to work on side projects one day a week. It’s a policy that’s taken off in Silicon Valley, with other companies following suit for out-of-the-box ideas.

But as noted by a former Google employee, there were barriers to overcome before a 20% project could see the light of day. In addition to seeking technical and product approvals, engineers were also responsible for maintenance. Furthermore, when it came time for peer reviews, he noted that employees who dedicated their full time on a sanctioned project were more likely receive better marks and promotions.

The 20% policy, which used to apply to all employees, had also narrowed in scope over the years. Even before its removal, engineers had to seek approval from management, who for the sake of productivity were discouraged from green-lighting independent projects.

The end of 20% time doesn’t mean the end of innovation for Google. With more Google X projects coming to light, it’s apparent the company still has big ideas, from Glass to Project Loon, the latest idea to come to light that plans to use balloons to provide Internet access in remote areas.

[Image: Flickr user brionv]

About the author

Based in San Francisco, Alice Truong is Fast Company's West Coast correspondent. She previously reported in Chicago, Washington D.C., New York and most recently Hong Kong, where she (left her heart and) worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.



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