How to unleash employee creativity

At my current company, Springer Nature, we have a great benefit of having the freedom to dedicate 10 percent of our work time working for a side project, learn something new, or on anything that can help us learn something new. Our employer gave us this freedom so we can grow personally and professionally, but one observation I have had during these months that we are practicing this was that it also helps to unleash employee creativity.

How we do it?

This initiative firstly started as a Hack Day for developers. Then we renamed it to “10 percent time” so it can be more inclusive to other profiles that are part of our department, such as UI & UX designers, PMs, and POs. We spend every second Friday of the month by doing something other than work related stuff, something that would in one way or another help us learn something new. Sometimes we do an online course, test that new version of a library we use every day, evaluate a new framework or even learn a new programming language. Beginning of the day we do a joint stand up where we share our plans for that day with other participants. Sometimes someone likes somebody’s idea and we join forces for that day to create something awesome. By the end of the day, we gather together and share what we have created and what did we learn. Some do a demo, some showcase their code and some just summarize their learnings. During this sharing session often people get the inspiration for their next hack day, or sometimes we realize that a presented idea could be of a benefit for the company to grow as a project and we pitch it to our colleagues and management.

What did we do during these days?

During the previous Hack Day, one of my colleagues did create a simple  NodeJS CRUD API as she wanted to learn NodeJS. On the other side, as I usually do backend stuff, from time to time I am quite interested to learn things about frontend. For a long time, I wanted to learn Vue.js, so I volunteered to create the frontend for that API. During those few hours of coding, we managed to do a simple Vue.js application and implement a frontend for CRUD operations of that API. The code can be found at GitHub repo. Of course, I didn’t become proficient in Vue.js in one day, but next time I need a frontend for my app, at least I know where to start and I value this.

In another case, me and a colleague of mine started a Hack Day project to improve the process of managing code challenges for our developer candidates. We worked on this project for  three Hack Days. The result was an application that included features like managing the automatic creation of a GitHub repo for a candidate, including there her code challenge and give her the privileges to commit to that repo. It also included the feature to manage the workflow of submission, so when the candidate creates a PR of her finished code challenge, the application will remove her from project collaborators and notifies us in a Slack channel that a submission is ready to be reviewed. It was a three fun Hack Days for two of us and it resulted in a production-ready application which eliminated manual labor. There are several other successful results which came out of this 10 percent time.

What we achieved?

I understand that the projects we do during these days are never ready for production, but we achieved to create a culture of sharing the knowledge with others and by it to foster employee creativity. This 10 percent time creates space for us to experiments with things we don’t have the time to experiment during our regular work days because of deadlines or priorities. It also helps us to grow professionally and personally. Sometimes it results in a useful thing for the company as well, and most importantly it helps us to unleash our creativity while having fun. As a developer, I value this a lot in a company, and I would recommend every company to start practicing it. You never know where brilliant ideas come from!

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