Here’s an idea for 2016 — tell your employees to drop all their projects cold turkey for two weeks. No more meetings, status reports or fixing production issues. Tell your employees that they have two weeks to work on something totally different. The only two requirements are that they learn something new and that the project be somehow (or someday) related to the company’s business. Other than that, it’s totally up to them.
Why is this a good idea? About a year ago, we started a program at Bandwidth where employees take two weeks off to work in a totally different department or on a special project, an opportunity for team members to take a break from their day-to-day jobs to work on a new project that will help to grow the business, solve a problem or save money. Our team says that this kind of time away from their regular jobs is one of their most rewarding experiences. It’s an experience I’d encourage anyone to take part in if they get the chance, and I’d recommend any company consider it. The benefits of temporarily taking on a new role extend far beyond those two weeks — both for employees and employers alike.
Sound too good to be true? Maybe for some folks, this type of break doesn’t feel like a break after all. Yes, you’re still technically at work but doing something completely different is a great way to recharge batteries or transition out of a staid way of thinking. In my experience, it’s been an ideal way to encourage creativity, develop new skills and even turn new ideas into revenue.
- Encourage creativity.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in nine-to-five monotony. Attend this meeting, answer that email, fix that bug, etc. Employees oftentimes have really creative ideas for new products or enhancements to existing systems that will make them more efficient. The problem is that everyone is so busy trying to support the current product, or building features for the next one, that nobody has time to devote to an experiment that may or may not succeed.
Two weeks of paid time to work on a new project is the perfect way to let their creativity fly. It gives employees the freedom to work on something related to their specific interest areas, getting them excited about work again and igniting that spark for what they love to do. When they’re back at their desks after two weeks, everyone around them experiences a new energy as they incorporate fresh ideas into daily routines.
- Develop new skills.
It’s great to become an expert at what you do, but not if that becomes the only thing that you do. It is easy to become the guy or the gal for testing, or deployment or databases. However, if that is the only thing you do every day, other skills may begin to get rusty. Employees need to always be learning something new to stay relevant in their field. These special assignments offer employees the chance to sharpen rusty skills, or learn entirely new ones. The small group setting allows them to compare notes and solve problems with others who bring unique perspectives. This alone can help them learn more in just two short weeks than they might learn in two months working their day-to-day jobs. Expanding their skill sets makes their jobs more enjoyable — and makes them even more valuable to their company.
- Turn new ideas into new revenue.
Not every two-week break will turn into a new product, service or feature — but it just might. When Bandwidth’s two-week special assignments end, participants present their work and findings to a group of their peers and senior management, making the case for their ideas to move forward. The sessions, which are typically set up as lunch-and-learn format, give participants the opportunity to present what they learned during their two weeks, show a demo of the project prototype and gather feedback from the broader team.
One of the best parts of the program is that some of the company’s special projects go on to become real features in existing products. Even if they don’t, the program is an ideal opportunity for employees to switch gears away from the day-to-day and try something totally new.
This special assignment presents an opportunity to turn a creative vision into reality. There will always be tasks that must be accomplished — and they’ll be waiting for your employees when they finish. But the creativity and skill sets discovered in this timeframe cannot be learned in a standard work environment. If our businesses are about disrupting markets, then we need to equip our employees with the time needed to develop the skills to do so.