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High productivity requirements eliminate 20% time according to sources

Google has always been famous for its employee perks. From childcare to naps to gourmet meals, many other companies have tried to copy Google's perks in an effort to lure in and retain employees. One of Google's most interesting perks is what the company called 20% time.

20% time allowed employees to take a single day each week to work on side projects. Google's 20% time sparked some of the company's biggest innovations including its huge moneymaker AdSense, Gmail, Google Talk, and Google News. While Google hasn’t officially killed 20% time, it has made changes that have all but eliminated 20% time from the Google culture.

Quartz reports that Google has effectively shut down 20% time by requiring that all engineers get approval from management to use 20% time to work on independent projects. Previously, 20% time was the right of everyone who worked at Google. Taking that a step further, upper management at Google has reportedly discouraged managers from approving any 20% projects at all.

Those managers are judged on team productivity, which is measured by an internal analytics team who keep an eye on employee productivity. Reports indicate that the level of productivity these teams are required to deliver assumes that all employees are working on primary responsibilities 100% of the time.

Google CEO Larry page killed off Google Labs, which fostered the development of experimental projects. Employees using their 20% time created many of those Google Labs projects. 

Source: Quartz

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This makes sense.
By retrospooty on 8/19/2013 10:48:37 AM , Rating: 2
20% is 1 day a week spent on potentially nothing. It's not like its gone, its just that the 20% has to be approved (as in management looks at it and determines if its a worthwhile project or not). They probably had way too many projects being worked on that didn't look like they could ever be released and deemed useful to anyone.

RE: This makes sense.
By Jaybus on 8/19/2013 1:50:54 PM , Rating: 3
Well, then it is indeed dead. Submitting a project for management approval has no resemblance to 20% time. That's a suggestion box. The assumption is that management is smarter than everyone else and so can better decide which projects are winners. I say that is a big assumption. Management arrogance seems to grow as a nonlinear function of the level of bureaucracy. The "do as your told" model does not allow for innovation, but instead leads to the efficient, orderly design of a better bloodletting device.

RE: This makes sense.
By retrospooty on 8/19/2013 4:07:55 PM , Rating: 2
I dunno. It depends entirely on what Google was getting out of it. How do you know all their best products didn't come from some agreed upon projects and the 20% time thing wasn't being abused. Companies don't just "shut down innovation" for no reason. They do studies and its all about ROI. If they don't feel like it's making any worthwhile achievements they shut it down. Unless you have a list of what projects actually came from this 20% time, and what projects are actually being shut down, its just speculation. I would at least wait for Google employees to chime in on it before damning it.

RE: This makes sense.
By tng on 8/19/2013 4:09:53 PM , Rating: 3
The assumption is that management is smarter than everyone else and so can better decide which projects are winners.
Seen that in action...

I go to a large company that sells what used to be a very innovative product. About 6 years ago an engineer described a way to use their product in a completely new way, just minimal software and math to make it happen. Management literally came out and said that the plan would never sell.

Last year they were forced to admit that the reason sales were down was because one of their competitors had the same idea and being far smaller and "hungry" had developed it, marketed it and now they are the leader.

RE: This makes sense.
By retrospooty on 8/19/2013 4:24:00 PM , Rating: 2
Sure, it happens, but it depends entirely on the leadership at the company in question. If its not being run well, and bad decisions are being made about which projects/products to work on, and what features to put in the products it will probably go downhill. On one hand if they are killing good projects, its a bad thing, but they could also be killing useless projects in facvor of having more work on good ones.

If anyone has any info on what specific projects are being shut down that is some good info. Other than that it's pure guess work.

RE: This makes sense.
By Samus on 8/19/2013 9:07:29 PM , Rating: 2
It all depends how efficiently management evaluates potential projects. If there aren't any loopholes or ridiculous red tape\favoritism for possible Google Labs approval, this will improve productivity at Google.

Many 20% projects, like the Google Search Appliance, Google Buzz, Google Video Player, Jaiku/Dodgeball (Twitter/Foursquare competitors) and the anomaly Orkut (which directly competes with Google's own Google+) are all failures. Some were good ideas, but they made no money (and were in fact money pits) and never made it into Google Labs (with the exception of the GSA which is pending discontinuation in favor of cloud-based Google Enterprise Search)

RE: This makes sense.
By superstition on 8/21/2013 4:19:38 PM , Rating: 2
Lots of management-approved products are failures, too. How about Microsoft Bob?

By idiot77 on 8/19/2013 10:50:46 AM , Rating: 5
Love or hate Apple and Google, it's safe to say one thing: Innovation is mostly dead.

Google got to where it is based a program to permit innovation. Now that's dead.

Apple, well, innovation there (if there was any bonafide innovation) died a couple years ago.

RE: Innovation
By Mitch101 on 8/19/2013 12:54:56 PM , Rating: 5
Innovation is alive and well at Apple they just cant figure out what to steal without Steve Jobs.

RE: Innovation
By superstition on 8/21/2013 4:16:11 PM , Rating: 2
Apple used to be called Microsoft's research arm.

Just compare the LisaOS to Windows 1.0.

Despite what people like to believe, the Lisa was quite a step beyond what had been done at Xerox. Apple just messed up the execution by bundling unreliable homebrewed "Twiggy" minifloppies, not using a fast enough 68000, failing to license the platform, and not marketing its Office suite effectively.

Apple had a sophisticated multitasking GUI system with an Office suite and protected memory in 1983 and let Microsoft steal it all, bit by bit.

RE: Innovation
By TSS on 8/19/2013 3:36:16 PM , Rating: 2
It might seem like a bad thing. But it's actually a good thing.

Google is powerfull enough as it is. Real innovation comes from companies that need to grow, that are limited in some way and have to work within those constraints. The more that becomes possible, the less that actually gets done.

Google had a good run and brought us many great things but now it's time for a new Google to arise, who will beat them at their own game. Just like Google beat all the search engines that came before it.

Considering the juggernaught Google is now i can't wait to see what wonderfull product comes out in order to do just that.

RE: Innovation
By blazeoptimus on 8/20/2013 12:40:22 AM , Rating: 2
It's a bit early to say innovation at Apple or Google is dead. Apple has typically had a several year gap between industry altering products (iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc), so it's a bit early to pronounce judgement. That being said, without Jobs, apples's chances are lower.

Apple's real innovation has always been its ability to take a pre-existing concept and turn into a product everybody wants. While there were tablets prior to the ipad, they were poorly executed (tablet pc, umpc). Apple essentially created the market. Prior to the iPhone, industry analysts would say "smart phones will never sell as well as normal cell phones since it requires more user interaction". Today, smartphones are outselling normal cell phones. That's largely thx to apple showing how things could work (app store independent of provider, easy to use interface without stylus or keypad, etc..). Again, the technologies weren't necessarily innovative, but the execution was. And because of this, these products turned out to be industry disrupting products.

As to google, I think the decision cuts both ways. I can easily see the 20% being abused, with little results to show for the wasted time over the past few years. I could see employees, over time, feeling entitled to use one day a week to do whatever they wanted. While the idea may have been great to begin with, given enough time, people will abuse any system put in place. It's human nature(the public sector/socialist countries are a good example of this). That being said, having Google move to a more capitalistic approach makes it more vulnerable to the traditional problems of larger companies that others have mentioned above.

I guess the real take home is "let's wait and see" how the next few years go. We should have a pretty good idea by then how deep the damage runs from these decisions/changes by then. If they fail to release anything or miss execute badly (say ios7 falls on its face pretty hard), we'll know.

By flyingpants1 on 8/19/2013 10:36:13 AM , Rating: 4
I was surprised to hear about Labs being shut down, and now this? From the sounds of it, they want to focus on revamping their current stuff rather than inventing new stuff. Why not just do both at the same time? Not like they are starved for resources. Where would they be today without AdSense?

RE: weird
By bug77 on 8/19/2013 11:19:05 AM , Rating: 2
There's more to it than this article. 20% time was a program for an era where Google was in need of ideas. Now it just happens that it has more ideas than it can handle.
It's a tricky situation because new ideas are what bring down established powerhouses, but I'm sure Google is smart enough to take this into account.

RE: weird
By quiksilvr on 8/19/2013 11:31:28 AM , Rating: 2
Regardless of company size and resources, it is always better to pool the resources towards improving and consolidating resources to avoid overlap and integrate varying software together.

For example, Messenger+, Hangouts, Google Talk, SMS/MMS and later on Google Voice are on their way to becoming just one app. But the path to there has not been a smooth one and is riddled with bugs and lost features. By limiting 20% time, they can bring more resources in to fix this current mess and ensure that an app as important as this one is up to par with the rest of their applications.

By SublimeSimplicity on 8/19/2013 11:13:10 AM , Rating: 3
There comes a point in a company's life, where they realize it's cheaper and less risky to stop investing in home grown technology and instead look for probable winners and buy them. This is the phase Google is moving into.

By lemonadesoda on 8/19/2013 11:34:58 AM , Rating: 1
This is an intelligent move. The 20% culture is fantastic for 20% of the most innovative and creative people. But for 80% of people it is an opportunity to goof off or a distraction to their role as a paid employee. Not all people are inventive, or at least, as efficient and productive at it as the best. The change in policy is not to kill off the 20% but to bring some discipline to those departments/staff that have been enjoying goof time to their personal benefit without gain to the company.

RE: 80/20
By kmmatney on 8/19/2013 1:16:29 PM , Rating: 2
I agree - at my small company about about 120 people, only three of us have %20 time (more like %10 time, as we often need the extra day in the week to do our regular jobs). We have many great engineers who are good at what they do - give them a spec and they'll come up with great PCB and/or CAD design. However they are not necessarily good at thinking outside the box, so they are better off doing what they do best. I'm sure the engineers at Google who have used the 20% time to benefit the company in the past will still get it.

This is what happens...
By ATrigo on 8/19/2013 1:25:11 PM , Rating: 3
When business managers overrun and take the power from engineers. It is impossible to run a company like Google without both... the problem is keeping both in balance. And seems to me that Google wants to step out of Pareto's principle in terms of human resource utilization.

Not True
By sprockkets on 8/19/2013 5:38:34 PM , Rating: 3
Multiple employees posted on the ars article of this, and all said the source (and others who repeated it) is just another stupid news article who did nothing to fact check it.

20% is alive and well at google.

By CharonPDX on 8/19/2013 12:48:39 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, for software engineers, the 20% time may have been a "good investment," but for many employees, it wasn't useful - and indeed even offered.

By Ammohunt on 8/19/2013 2:41:04 PM , Rating: 2
The immature company is growing up! The value of a truly professional environment cannot be understated.

By bsd228 on 8/19/2013 5:27:18 PM , Rating: 2
Let's not overstate the significance of this all. Many companies have this sort of policy. And they also give their engineers more than enough work to do in their "40" hour work week. These side projects are extra hours worked out of interest. Someone that blew off commitments spending time on the side work would be leaving in short order.

If the work starts maturing to something the company is interested in, they become company projects.

By Kazinji on 8/20/2013 8:08:16 AM , Rating: 2
For example, Messenger+, Hangouts, Google Talk, SMS/MMS and later on Google Voice are on their way to becoming just one app. But the path to there has not been a smooth one and is riddled with bugs and lost features. By limiting 20% time, they can bring more resources in to fix this current mess and ensure that an app as important as this one is up to par with the rest of their applications.

Seems like this to me. To many projects that are overlapping. And in a sense are just a waste of time when 10 ppl are doing the same thing all independently. Don't think it's going away just time to converge all that is going on. It will prob start up in the future, but that is prob at least a year out.

By saganhill on 8/20/2013 8:48:03 AM , Rating: 2
No matter what you do to try and make something unique, American management will screw it up.

Stupid, maybe 'evil.'
By Wererat on 8/20/2013 12:04:12 PM , Rating: 2
Google grew because it took risks, chief among which is that it dared to trust its people to be excellent even with atraditional perks. While other places were where you had to go or built a resume, Google was where people wanted to go.

Now they've obviously decided that they don't need to trust their people, so they'll have directions and mandates. Trust me, all the perks will start vaporizing one by one. A managerial mindset that thinks 'is this "necessary"' will find reasons to remove things.

Sure, they can now afford to buy others' cool ideas and integrate them, but that just means the idea people should LEAVE Google and go start something so you can sell it back to Google.

That's OK by me; Google has apparently decided it wants to help facilitate the Age of Intrusion, so I don't mind at all if they stagnate.

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Google's Time Either Way
By First Reviewer on 8/24/2013 6:43:58 PM , Rating: 2
Certainly it would be nice to have a day off every week to do whatever was on your mind and it seems that Google has taken that to the next level. By that I mean that they are consistence in letting their employees do just that every week. People when it comes to Google I'm not sure that they already don't have the question and answer waiting for us at this time, we just don't know at this time what we are going to ask them.

By shannaemoon on 8/19/2013 2:53:17 PM , Rating: 1
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