You might have heard of workplaces that let their employees spend a percentage of their time on creative projects that will benefit the company. In the last organisation I worked for, I introduced this concept and it was very liberating.
It improved skills, enthusiasm, collaboration, and made us much more productive and confident as a team. I wanted to do the same for my teams at PDS too. So we’ve recently started giving people the opportunity to spend 10% of their time developing their skills in a way that benefits Parliament.
How it works
People are empowered to spend 10% of their time developing their skills and helping other colleagues do the same. As long is it benefits Parliament in some way, it doesn’t have to be delivery related. For example, learning a new skill and then teaching your colleagues what you’ve learned or doing a course where you can apply your new skills in Parliament.
There’s no set time for doing this either. It can be a morning or an afternoon a week, a day every couple of months, a couple of days a year. The important thing is that everyone has the opportunity to do something that’s useful for them and Parliament.
So innovation only happens once a week, right?
Absolutely not. It’s important to say that this is not the only time people are doing new things and learning new skills. That can happen any time. 10% time is an opportunity to learn in a style that suits you best, without the pressure of having to deliver to someone else’s expectations.
It’s also an acknowledgement that we work in an ever-changing industry. How we keep our skills up to date has moved beyond traditional training models to something more continuous.
Why it’s so important
We have four cultural values here at PDS and 10% time is one way that we’re helping to create a positive culture.
PDS cares about its staff and wants them to learn from and support each other. 10% time can help with this as it’s an explicit statement that career development is important and that we trust each other to decide what suits us best. It also means our staff have the chance to give something back to each other.
We want everyone to have confidence in their work. Trying new things without the pressure of delivering something is a great way of letting our people build their confidence when they’re learning new skills.
A huge part of this is giving people an opportunity to work together who might not get the chance to do so otherwise. Staff using their 10% time to gain new skills can help build communities around Parliament and build on best practice. Having a collaboration culture is also one of the aspirations of Parliament’s digital strategy.
Some of the best examples of innovation I’ve seen are when talented people are really motivated to solve a problem. And when they're given the support, skills, and time to do so.
We want our staff to have the curiosity and confidence to solve problems using their expertise and skills. Giving staff the opportunity to spend 10% of their time doing something they chose to do and don’t have to do, can stretch their creative thinking. Doing something different is also really refreshing.
What people are doing
What I really like is that everyone is approaching it in different ways – it’s very personal. Some teams are working together, other people are doing something for themselves.
This could be running a learning session for your colleagues about something that’s inspired you. Or finding a interesting way to introduce a new concept. In my previous organisation a colleague designed a gameshow to help colleagues learn about Github.
Some of our developers are using their 10% time to build useful websites and apps. A recent example is the Is Parliament sitting? website which shows at a glance when the Commons and Lords are sitting. ‘Recess’ is one of our most popular search terms so this solution answers the question in a simple, clear way.
Teaching and promoting digital skills
Some people have worked with schools and older people to help improve IT literacy and to encourage people to think about careers in digital and technology. This boosts coaching skills, and helps us keep digital inclusion at the forefront of our approach.
Talks and events
Some colleagues have started running a regular data event and hosting codebar events to encourage people to learn how to code. We want to play a role in building a larger community beyond Parliament. One of our developers started a lunchtime talks series to encourage people to work together more and give people confidence in presenting.
Investigating and understanding emerging tech
Giving our staff the chance to work with technology such as Amazon’s Alexa or Raspberry Pi can demonstrate how Parliament can make the most of emerging trends. One team has been looking at how we can improve our use of meeting space, and use data to gather evidence for change.
We’ve also been encouraging staff to do things like finding inventive ways to solve existing problems. People can take some time out of their day jobs to come up with creative solutions.
As an example, a small group of people from different teams throughout PDS comes together to work out how to make PDS an even more talented organisation. That’s big, transformational stuff but it's evolved organically thanks to the dedication and energy of our staff.
I’m keen that staff take the time to learn from the best practice of others (and this is one of my favourite ways to spend my own 10% time). I’ve always found that visiting other organisations to find out how they work and learning from them is incredibly stimulating and helps build perspective.
Want to find out more?
We’ll be sharing examples of what our talented colleagues have been doing over the next few months so keep an eye on the blog.
If you’re interested in finding out more about this approach, I’m very happy to visit and use some of my own 10% time helping other organisations get started on this initiative.