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All Work, No Play?

Google engineers spend some of their workweek doing anything but work. Could you profit from letting your employees do the same?

Where does Google come up with all its cool new services and tools? It has grown from a simple internet search company to one that offers e-mail, maps, news distribution and a communication service-not to mention improved and specialized searches. Do its engineers fool around all day? Well, kind of-and maybe your employees should, too.

Google encourages its engineers to spend one day a week, or 20 percent of their time, on projects that are unrelated to work. Called "20 percent time," the concept has been quite lucrative for Google, helping the company dramatically expand its offerings, some of which have become cash cows.

Google's AdSense for content program, for example, was created during 20 percent time. These ads, which appear on websites relevant to the ads' content, have become a major revenue-generator for Google. AdSense for content works so well, in fact, that many pre-eminent publishers, including The New York Times and The Boston Globe, use it to facilitate their advertising needs.

According to Debbie Jaffe, product marketing manager for Google, "The 20 percent program is important to keep engineers engaged and excited about working on new projects. It's an opportunity for them to grow both professionally and personally."

Jaffe says Google engineers have responded positively to the program, and why wouldn't they? It lets employees enjoy the freedom of self-expression, which the current trends of blogs and podcasts also tap into. Google's 20 percent off-the-grid program may not be appropriate for every business, Jaffe warns, but she points out that any business can benefit from programs that sup-port happy and productive work environments. Such programs open doors to fresh revenue--and your business, like Google, could benefit from discovering previously unexplored avenues.

If 20 percent of the workweek is too much of a commitment, try 10 percent, and push it to Friday afternoons, when many employees wind down their productivity. Your business could sweeten the pot by offering incentives to workers whose projects get implemented. When you consider the diverse interests of your employees, why not let them take a shot at creating something novel?

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This article was originally published in the April 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: All Work, No Play?.

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