Google has denied its famous perk of having 20 per cent of the week to work on individual projects has become too difficult to take advantage of. A spokesperson re-iterated that it is “alive and well”.
On going public in 2004, the tech giant cited that 20 per cent as vital to its ability to innovate and attributed to it many of its most significant advances. Under the veil of anonymity, some former employees claim they were too busy to take one day a week to work on side projects.
One product of that 20 per cent was AdSense, which now accounts for about 25 per cent of the company’s $50+ billion annual revenue. Other results include Gmail, Google Transit, Google Talk, and Google News.
Speaking to Quartz anonymously, one former employee said engineers now have to ask supervisors for permission to use the perk. In the past it had been seen as a right for every employee. This follows 2011’s closure of Google Labs when Larry Page took over as CEO – those labs had showcased many of the 20 per cent projects.
Writing for Wired.com, Ryan Tate – an author of a book on 20 per cent time – believes Google couldn’t kill off 20 per cent time even if it wanted to, adding the policy is “still very much alive”.
He believes that historically, the company has allowed employees to spend approximately one-fifth of their time working on a Google-related passion project. It has been mentioned in official documents and press releases, but has never been a fully realised corporate policy.
Tate says: “[It is not] a fully fleshed corporate program with its own written policy, detailed guidelines, and manager. No one gets a 20 per cent time packet at orientation, or pushed into distracting themselves with a side project.
“20 per cent time has always operated on a somewhat ad hoc basis, providing an outlet for the company’s brightest, most restless, and most persistent employees – for people determined to see an idea through to completion, come hell or high water.”
He uses the example of engineer Paul Buchheit who worked on Gmail for two and a half years before it was finally passed by the board. Before it finally saw the green light, one member of Google’s founding team reportedly said the idea would destroy the brand and crush the company.
“Because 20 per cent time is less of a formal program than an idea or operating spirit available to bull-headed employees, availing oneself of 20 per cent time has long entailed sacrifices. And at a company where bonuses make up a large percentage of income, these sacrifices can be financial, particularly if your manager and co-workers are, for whatever reason, unsupportive of your 20 per cent time project.
“Even if said people could not block your 20 per cent time project, they could make you pay a steep price for continuing to pursue it.”