An open mind to timewasting

I recently visited the new Shoreditch offices of a consultancy I’m currently working with. The more ‘presentable’ staff – account management, creative, editorial – were on the ground and first floors. The dev teams were kept safely away from actual clients, in the upper levels.
As we climbed the stairs, my host apologised in advance in case we caught them playing games. It comes with the territory, she explained; guys with a passion for that sort of thing were precisely the sort of people they wanted working for them. A certain amount of game-playing was tolerated, and almost encouraged.

Google takes this one stage further. Its engineers have something called ’20 per cent time’: one day a week to work on anything they like. Google News and Gmail, both groundbreaking services, were two such ’20 per cent’ projects. Others maybe haven’t been so dramatic. But I bet the engineers learned a lot in the process, and delivered better results in the remaining 80 per cent of their week.
If you’re working in the new media world, you need to be aware of industry trends and developments. You need to spend time playing with emerging services and technologies. There may not be any direct relevance to your immediate line of business. But if you spend some time experimenting, you’re almost guaranteed to see ways that the methods or concepts could be applied in your own field.
Think of the parallels. People wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you spent 10 or 15 minutes reading a trade magazine at your desk, as you drank your coffee. Maybe your company’s intranet has online learning modules. Neither is ‘work’, as such; but nobody would argue that it isn’t ultimately valuable to your work.
When a new website or service passes my (rather vague) curiosity threshold, something like Digg or, I consciously spend a bit of time trying them out. I have a list of blogs I know to be worth consulting on a daily basis. Although you’re unlikely to find this in any web manager’s job description, I consider it an essential part of the working day.
Colleagues looking over your shoulder might see you randomly surfing the web, or writing a quick post for your personal blog. Nothing – directly – work-related. On paper, that’s probably timewasting, and a disciplinary offence by many companies’ internet usage policies. But it’s impossible to stay ahead of the game if you don’t know what the score is.