5 reasons employee side projects are a surprisingly good thing

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By any measure, business projects fail early and often. So what if there was a simple solution? And that is to let employees spend a portion of their time on side projects that excite and inspire them more than their ‘real’ projects.

Such a suggestion may surprise you. But business projects actually fail less and succeed more, when employees can devote some of their energy and effort to side projects they’re passionate about. Why? Because people become more engaged, creative, collaborative, and productive in their work, and this boosts their performance across the board — in all their projects.

Google has long allowed employees to devote 20% of their time to side-project initiatives. The tech giant understands that what starts as a personal ‘passion project’ can ultimately boost the bottom line. In fact, what we now know as Gmail and Google Maps were once side projects.

You may find the mere notion of employee-side projects silly, worrying, or maddening. With real, high-stakes projects firing on all cylinders, in flux, or falling apart, letting people work on side projects probably seems irresponsible and ridiculous. But, in all likelihood, the rewards will be many and great. Here are five reasons why.

1. Greater creativity and innovation

With side projects, work becomes more intrinsically motivated and refreshingly riskless. Employees, as a result, become more freethinking, creative, and innovative, and these ‘juices’ naturally transfer to their regular projects.

2. More and better teamwork

When people work on side projects — something that really moves them and stokes their imagination — they are more inclined to seek out a ‘support pack’ of peers. Perhaps for the first time, they are drawn to teaming up with like-minded coworkers, discovering common ground, and collaborating on ideas and opportunities. As a result, they want to engage in more and better teamwork all around.

3. Higher productivity

More freedom, independence, and control routinely lead to greater mastery. And mastery is key to any employee’s performance. Side projects embody all these things, and together they raise worker productivity not only in passion projects but also in regular projects.

4. Increasing trust and accountability

When their job doesn’t depend on their side project’s success, and their only ‘pressure’ is in the joy derived, employees tend to trust both themselves and leadership more, and also accept more personal responsibility. And in feeling less anxious or unsure, they become increasingly open, honest, and accountable in all their work.

5. Stronger health and well-being

Employees derive deep purpose and meaning from their side projects. And, thus, they feel less stressed-out and more content, relaxed, and fulfilled. Such pleasure is bound to improve their health and well-being and give them the strength they need to shake off any obstacles on their real projects.

Employee side projects are a surprisingly good thing. So why not just say yes — and reap the many and great rewards.
Charlie Gilkey is an author, entrepreneur, philosopher, Army veteran, and renowned productivity expert. Founder of Productive Flourishing, Gilkey helps professional creatives, leaders, and changemakers take meaningful action on work that matters. His new book is Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done. Learn more at http://startfinishingbook.com.