Side Projects Within the Workplace

Career

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jotham.lim

Isn’t it ironic?

Many companies preach the values of creativity and innovation within the workplace, but don’t provide the breathing space to do so (Thankfully, mine is a rare few who does).

To use office hours for self-development is viewed as slacking; to stray away from ordinary work is “risky”, “not towing the line” and “showing off”.

In fact, many people prefer working remotely because nobody will judge them for watching YouTube tutorials, experimenting and making mistakes.

But I have a hypothesis: that high-quality output are fruits borne from personal growth, cultivated through freedom of expression and room for error; not wrung out from employees like a sponge in the pursuit of “perfect execution”.

Which is why I pitched the idea of having Freedom Fridays to my department. It’s a day where teammates can pursue any side projects they want, be it inside or outside of work.

The catch? As long as existing commitments are fulfilled (meetings & deliverables) and the chosen work is productive or creative. It could be a coding project, filming TikTok, pursuing side hustles, or even writing a song.

Why Bother?

  • It is colour that breaks the monochrome shades of the daily grind. Even the most ambitious of us can find corporate work soul-crushing after long hours. So why not look forward to Freedom Fridays the same way we look forward to recess and gym class in school?
  • It is a judgement-free space for people to grow. The key is being judgement-free. Only you can define what personal growth is, what to focus on, and how to achieve it. Personal growth isn’t something that managers nor other people can dictate for you.
  • It is room to make mistakes. Most times, the workplace demands perfection from us. But mistakes are part of the job; they are not problems, but opportunities to learn. If they’re not normalised, then we would rather choose to do less work instead. Less work means less errors, and zero work is perfection.

To my surprise, the pushback for Freedom Friday didn’t come from the upper management, but from the team itself. A common concern is guilt. The stigma towards misusing office hours runs so deep, that even the intern without prior working experience felt it.

It is a culture that needs to change. I will still test my hypothesis and the next few weeks will be my experiment. Thankfully, it’s not without precedence.

For instance, I’ve used my blog as a testing ground for many of the company website’s SEO initiatives. Sitemaps and subdomains can be confusing the first time around. Configuring SEO settings is highly technical, and there is no room to mess with the company’s DNS settings just to experiment.

There’s a reason FAANG companies have implemented side project time. If done well, it benefits everyone involved, from the company to the employee. How else are we going to make 80,000 hours of our lifetime working a bit more fun?

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