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US News & World Report commentary from David Morken topic: sprint sabbaticals and big idea days


March 6, 2015


August 13, 2019

Small office meeting

At Bandwidth, accomplishing our mission is the #1 priority, and there’s no way we could do it without the talented and motivated people who come to work here each day. What we’re doing right now, every day is important and exciting—but creating an environment of continual innovation is the fuel that will propel us forward.

Sprint Sabbaticals are one way that we help employees “sit back and innovate,” by providing an opportunity to take a few steps away from their daily work and think about the big picture. That’s where the majority of professional development occurs. It’s not simply about preventing burnout caused by the daily grind of tasks and deliverables. It’s about empowering employees to be better—for their personal satisfaction and for advancing the company’s mission.

The way the Bandwidth Sprint Sabbaticals work is that, as some developers are sprinting to complete a big project, others are taking time off to work on another project of their choice. Employees can take up to two weeks of paid sabbatical to devote all of their time to a project that they believe can make a big impact on the company’s future. To maximize effectiveness, we give employees our full support. That means their colleagues, superiors and even guys like me are absolutely NOT allowed to bug them about their day-to-day work during this time.

The only caveat? The focus of the Sabbatical must tie to the Bandwidth mission. That might take the shape of a fix or improvement to an existing service, or an entirely new offering that will complement Bandwidth’s existing products and services. At the end of their allotted sabbatical, employees present their idea to a team that determines if it will come to fruition. In 2014, five out of seven of Bandwidth’s new products were direct results of Sprint Sabbaticals, which just goes to show that this program is serious business—for everyone.

We’ve found that this type of work refresh is rejuvenating and encourages different approaches to solving common development problems, while also inspiring innovation to develop new ideas. Speaking of new ideas…

Big Idea Weeks are another one of Bandwidth’s approaches to driving employee empowerment and company innovation. A few times each year, management hosts a series of internal contests where all employees compete to develop the best new product, service or improvement. Teams are encouraged to deliver beyond the status quo, and then ideas are presented to a panel of judges, “Shark Tank” style. While these weeks are often focused around a particular theme or challenge, there is also flexibility to break away from Bandwidth’s current focus markets. We find this format takes the pressure off of typical team brainstorms in a boardroom, where employees feel like they’re under the gun to deliver ideas, and creativity often ends up stifled.

If an idea gets the green light from the panel and management, it is fully included it in the business plan with funding, becoming a focus during the months ahead.

I believe that entrepreneurship doesn’t just start or end with the executive team. That spirit needs to be alive within an entire company, so that every employee feels empowered to bring their big ideas to life.