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Some companies set aside a few hours or maybe a day for employees to work on projects apart from their assigned team workload. This is atleast known in technology & IT sector, a description of some of these arrangements are in this LifeHacker article.

Is there any standard word or phrase to describe this? I was thinking of flex week, but I believe that is something else entirely, implying allowing telecommuting etc. but not necessarily self-directed projects.

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"20% time" seems to be the name. I work in IT and that's the only name for this practice I've ever heard. –  n.m. Jul 26 '13 at 18:03
    
Hewlett-Packard called this kind of work a “garage job,” referring to the kinds of start-up projects engineers (like Hewlett and Packard) do in their garages. –  Bradd Szonye Aug 1 '13 at 5:46

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

As n.m. notes in a comment below the posted question, one standard name for such set-aside time is "20 percent time." An article by Ed Frauenheim in Workforce Management dated May 2, 2006, and titled "On the Clock But Off on Their Own: Pet-project Programs Set to Gain Wider Acceptance" includes this paragraph:

At a handful of companies, though, employees are effectively guaranteed they can pursue projects they are itching to explore. Google puts it in writing right on its Web site about life as an engineer at the Internet giant: "Google engineers all have '20 percent time' in which they're free to pursue projects they're passionate about."

The PDF version of this article is available here.

The term (and underlying concept) evidently goes back at least to 1959, as is evident from this excerpt from Creativity, an Examination of the Creative Process: A Report to the Third Communications Conference of the Art Directors Club of New York (1959):

Some of you who are in administrative positions may be interested in the tangible dollars-and-cents results of this 20 percent policy. Just a few years ago, a chemical engineer, working on 20 percent time, developed a process now used in our operation. He started research on 20 percent time because he was trying what he thought was a long shot. He had a hunch— and, incidentally, the scientific method does not preclude the use of hunches— and he succeeded in getting men in other scientific disciplines to help him on their 20 percent time. Early work showed the symptoms of success and, to make a very long story short, within a period of about six months the project became formalized and he had time to put his 20 percent of time elsewhere. ... The skill is, in part, being able to recognize the lucky break. So the completely-directed scientist will not be able to pursue what he may feel is a bit of luck, unless he has a bit of extra, unregulated time.

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Google : 20% time, 3M : 15% time, Leatherwing's company : Hack Day ... these are different qualifiers for the same concept, I'm looking for a single word that describes it if that exists. –  Alok Jul 26 '13 at 20:21
    
The 1959 example in my answer refers to an unnamed company, but that company certainly isn't Google. Still, Google is closely identified with the term today. Indeed, Ryan Tate, in The 20% Doctrine (2012), asserts "So what is '20 percent time'? It was invented at Google and works like this: Employees at the Internet company are allowed, and sometimes encouraged, to devote a fifth of their time to projects they dreamed up themselves." That Google "invented" 20 percent time is evidently erroneous, but that many people imagine Google did is also fairly clear. –  Sven Yargs Jul 26 '13 at 20:48
    
Note : There doesn't seem to be a single universal term, I accepted this answer but also see Leatherwing's reply –  Alok Aug 13 '13 at 18:22

In my (software) company, we set aside a day for employees to work on individual projects and call it a Hack Day (a term also used in the article you referenced in the question). A more generic term, which can be any amount of time, is hackathon.

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However, 'Hack Day' would only apply to a day I think, in some cases this could be half a day or left to the employee etc. –  Alok Jul 26 '13 at 20:19
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The original question included this phrase "a few hours or maybe a day". It only refers to a day (or major portion thereof) but it does address the question. –  Leatherwing Jul 26 '13 at 20:40
    
Granted, if the actual answer is 'there are different terms' that is also valid - though idk what to accept in that case :P –  Alok Jul 26 '13 at 20:51
    
Any name including the word "hack" is presumably used only in IT? Does the practice exist outside the IT industry? I hadn't previously heard of it. –  TrevorD Jul 26 '13 at 23:53
    
@TrevorD "Hacking" is starting to have a general applicability (in the US, at least), as in "exploring an idea; messing around with." –  Jack Ryan Jul 28 '13 at 16:39

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