Google: Tighter Time Controls

June 6, 2008

Valley Wag, one of the Web logs I enjoy immensely, reports that Google’s 20 percent free time for personal projects policy may be changing. You can read the original news story here.

The key point for me was this observation:

What we hear from Googlers is that supervisors are cracking down on use of 20 percent time when employees’ main projects are behind schedule. A sensible management move, but against the spirit of 20 percent time, which was meant to liberate creative employees from meddling middle management.

Google is now a decade old an rocketing forward in many business sectors. The implication is that Google needs more productivity. The flip side is that the idea of having the equivalent of one day each week to work on projects that interest a Googler is now public relations.

My sources tell me that this is not a change in policy, just a reaction to work load. If I learn more, I will let you know. I calculated that the 20 percent rule if applied to 12,000 engineers with an average salary of $130,000 per year including benefits added hundreds of millions of research costs to the company. This cost does not appear as part of Google’s “regular” R&D activity, but the approach has produced some interesting innovations for the company.

Stephen Arnold, June 6, 2008

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