I encourage my employees to build drones. No, my company is not about to take on Amazon’s delivery bots. We aren’t in the spy business nor are we turning ourselves into a video production studio. But last year, a group of our employees started gathering regularly to wire, solder and test out their airborne creations. While building drones has nothing to do with our core business at 140 Proof -- gathering social data to use for ad targeting -- our company hobby is an integral part of our foundation.
Here is why:
It fosters a culture of innovation.
I’m a big believer in maintaining a gritty, imaginative approach -- no matter how big your startup becomes. It’s important to help your employees step back, look at the big picture and think creatively. Sometimes turning your mind to focus on a completely different challenge actually allows your mind to the unconscious space necessary to work out something crucial to your job.
It helps a company to stay current.
Sure, tinkering with drones and trading Bitcoin is fun, but more importantly, it allows businesses to be knowledgeable about up-and-coming trends. Company hobbies make great fodder for client conversations, and they help position your team as having their finger on the pulse of what’s next.
It boosts morale.
Infusing new activities into the lifeblood of your organization keeps people energized and excited. After working on the same project for a long time, there’s a definite need to keep things fresh and new -- and hobbies are a great way to accomplish that.
It encourages team building.
As your startup grows, not everyone will continue to work for the same manager. Employees who were close once may have drifted apart, so projects like these can help bring them back together. And when interests naturally cut across different company subdivisions, it provides an informal way for teams to better understand each other’s strengths -- and maybe even talk shop for a few minutes.
Allows leaders to connect with employees.
While companies may start out tight-knit, growth can cause the CEOs and founders to not be as close with some employees. So being able to stay involved not only allows for additional touch points, but it also provides entrepreneurs with direct access to individuals -- without their ideas being filtered through a manager.
If you’re ready to implement a company hobby, I have three pieces of advice to share:
1. It’s all about what they want to do.
Allow your employees the freedom to choose and see what they gravitate toward. Then, it’s your job to embrace what has energy and motivation behind it. As a boss, you learn quickly that you’ve hired people who are smarter or have different strengths than you, so this is a time for you to step back and let them decide what’s important.
2. Be engaged.
Show that you’re interested by asking employees how things are going, but don’t overstep. Better yet, use multiple communication channels to broadcast your support. Whether that’s tweeting a picture of the group from your company’s Twitter handle, sharing a post on LinkedIn or including it in your next newsletter, your team will feel validated if they know they have your backing. An added bonus is that prospective hires will see that the culture you’ve created is one they want to join.
3. Provide financial support.
If you have the budget, purchase materials or order food and drinks for the group. There’s a definite long-term ROI from enabling your employees to create something together: it’s money well spent, even if you’re still in the early days.
Above all, remember that developing a hobby isn’t something you impose from above. It’s an offer you make to groups of employees that show an organic interest. Do not have your management team brainstorm hobby ideas. Rather, look for ways to identify what your team wants and then offer up support. No matter how busy things are, the positive aspects of a company hobby far outweigh a few lost hours of work here and there.