Why is 20% time good for us all?

In my old life in the film industry, we all worked for free; on short films, music videos or low-budget features. It’s how we gained experience and credits on our CV, as well as supported our fellow filmmakers on projects we cared about. I’ve done my fair share of free stuff over the years, but there comes a point when you just have to say “No” – my time and contribution has value, no more freebies!

So I was pleasantly surprised when I joined Rabid and found out they had a policy of 20% time projects as part of the working week. At Rabid, this generally happens on a Friday. It’s when we can choose what we’d like to work on; perhaps some training or professional development, our own project, a startup or that really good idea we’ve had for a while and we want to see if it flies, or not. It creates a bit of space where clients know we are not available to give us time free of other commitments to control our own priorities.

Last year, my lovely friend and fellow filmmaker Steve La Hood (from Story Inc.) approached me with a doco idea about migrant women. We spent some time developing the idea and it morphed into an interactive documentary project about refugee women living in NZ. I was super excited and grateful that Rabid’s 20% time policy allowed me the time and support to work with Steve developing this idea, while being paid! This is a luxury not many filmmakers get.

Toward the end of 2015 we submitted our proposal to NZ On Air for funding and then … best Christmas present ever … we found out we had been successful and our project was funded! In the December 2015 funding round NZ On Air funded 4 interactive documentaries; that’s a huge commitment to their newly developed digital strategy, big shout out out to Brenda Leeuwenberg for all her hard work here.

Together We Make a Nation (working title) is a collaboration between Story Inc and Rabid, and at the moment we are deep in the research and design phase on what the website and interactive documentary will look like. It’s an exciting journey and one I hope to share more on in the coming months. I am excited that a project that was born from 20% time is now a fully fledged (and funded) project for both of us and the companies we work for.

So what is 20% time and how does it benefit us at Rabid, our clients and our community?

A bit of research tells me that it started as 15% time at 3M in the late 1940s, and two major projects resulted from this initiative: masking tape and Post-its. Google is credited for making 20% time what it is today – one of their 20% projects was Gmail. Whilst I am sure many projects that are started in 20% time fail or don’t make it to a commercial release, there are also some great successes.

More research tells me schools are implementing 20% projects in the classroom, encouraging students to use 20% of their time to explore a topic of their choice. There’s a great video about it you can watch on YouTube. It makes sense to me that this is a growing trend in schools. The high school students of today will be in their 20s in the 2030s – what will the world look like for them I wonder? Surely we want them to have an entrepreneurial mindset when they hit the workforce? As students, if they can experiment, fail, succeed and be creative in the safety of a classroom, this will better prepare them for life after education.

​Rabid’s policy of self directed 20% time means staff are doing great work for a bunch of great organisations and projects. For four days a week we do focused productive work for our clients and for one day we work on our own projects in a way that we choose. There are three simple questions we ask to check that a project meets our 20% time guidelines: ​

Is it good for the employee?

This means professional or personal development. Usually technical training for our developing staff, but also collaborating within and outside the organisation to improve team members’ ability to do their job. Rabid supports continuous improvement and training, which is good for staff, the company and our clients. ​

Is it good for the world?

Whether that’s working on open source software, for not-for profits, volunteering for community organisations or helping to solve a local or world issue. ​

Is it good for the company?

Sometimes our staff have a great idea for a product or service (or interactive doco). Rabid actively encourages entrepreneurship in our people.

For me, I am working on a 20% time project that I am very passionate about, it means I am more focused and productive during my work time and I think that helps to balance my work life. We might not be great about communicating the benefits of 20% time to our clients but I hope they will see the wider benefits when they hear about the awesome 20% time projects Rabid staff are doing in addition to the awesome client projects.

Here is some of the great work we are doing at Rabid in 20% time: ​

Whare Hauora

Brenda Wallace is building simple networked sensors that measure the temperature and humidity of a room.

Ruby New Zealand

Taking an active role in helping corral the Ruby community in New Zealand takes a lot of time and energy. Eoin Kelly, James Harton and Breccan McLeod-Lundy have all used their 20% time to serve on the Ruby New Zealand committee.

Ruby NZ also supports Rails Girls events around the country, and Rose Lu has organised Rails Girls in Wellington, and has coached at Rails Girls events around the country along with Eoin and Mai Nguyen. ​

International Nepal Fellowship

Ben Bradshaw has been developing a new website for INF – a Christian mission serving the physical and spiritual needs of Nepali people. INF helps people affected by leprosy, spinal cord injuries, and disability, facilitates development in remote and poor communities, runs medical outreach programmes and provides medical training as well as many other supports.

Cultivate Mentoring Lab

Cultivate Mentoring Lab is a free programme that provides mentoring support to early to mid career women, focussing on the structures that make it harder for women to access equal opportunities and equal pay. Mentors are women with substantial experience in their own careers, from a range of industries and organisation types, who are passionate about supporting other women and helping to grow the number of women in leadership and governance roles. Cara Hill and Amy Shand were two of the first group of Cultivate Mentors and are currently working with their mentees through the 6 month programme.

We also use our 20% time to attend conferences, write some amazing talks (Pycon, LCA, Kiwicon) and serve on governance boards of charities.

If you are interested in learning more about how we do 20% time, please say hello.