Side projects as an employee KPI

Working long hours — at the office, a coffee house, or at home — is one of the more obvious indicators that an employee is dedicated to their job, but is it indicative of how productive or how good they are?

It’s possible the long hours are a sign that someone is struggling to accomplish in 5 hours what could or should have been done in 1 or 2, and if that’s the case, the job is encroaching on their personal life, which in turn would have a commensurate negative affect on their work like — and that’s when the downward cycle begins. Unchecked, these long hours would have negative consequences for both employer and and employee alike.

Gmail, Google Maps, Twitter, Slack, and Groupon started started as side projects, as did Under Cloud, the digital research assistant, which I’ve since spun out as a startup of sorts.

Side projects should be considered key performance indicator of an employee, something I imagine Google figured out a long time ago, giving rise to their famous 20% time set aside for their employees to focus on side projects. The powers at Google are no fools, and the fruits of that 20% me time become Google products, but that needn’t be the case for everyone else.

“Should I tell my boss I have a side project?”

… is a question I see asked a lot while on a number of groups for entrepreneurs, developers, and designers to talk, share ideas, and learn from their peers. If it were me, I’d want to know if an employee had a side project, not because I’d feel threatened, but because I’d like to help, where possible. As an employer, I see side projects as evidence of some notable qualities:

  1. proactive, forward thinking, and a willingness to look beyond their immediate environment;
  2. inventiveness, and a mind for both identifying and fixing problems, or seeking out new and novel niches;
  3. and a demonstration of a commitment to self improvement, and a desire to learn.

These are commendable qualities that are beneficial to the employer, too — more so if these side projects are work-related activities. It’s feasible an employee could be working on a side project without me knowing — and that’s not a problem in and of itself — but it’s inconceivable that their out-of-hours dedication to their craft wouldn’t be of benefit Octane to some extent, since they’d either be:

  • learning new or honing existing skills;
  • collaborating with others and improving their own project management and communication skills;
  • and perhaps learning to make more effective use of their time, and — through trial and error — create a productive work-life balance.

I’m sure there are other benefits, so what’d I not include, and what do you think of side projects?

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