Not everyone is a fan of side projects. On his blog, for instance, serial entrepreneur David Hauser criticized the "current startup side project bubble."

"It's a problem because side projects create a talent bubble of people who aren't fully engaged and are just doing enough at their 'real' or full-time job to get by until their startup is up and running. This means their productivity suffers at their full-time job, an expense the employer ends up paying," he explained.

In short, his view is employers should hate their team's side projects, as these after-hours distraction leach time, energy, and creativity that could be put use on the job.

You should love your team's side projects...

The management team of red-hot startup Slack couldn't disagree more, according to a recent Medium post from the company's Matt Haughey.

"Dawn Sharifan, Slack's director of People Operations, believes that candidates with external interests are able to bring a more diverse set of ideas and experiences to work," he explains.

"Side projects help people avoid burnout, which is a major problem in our industry," Haughey quotes Sharifan as saying. "You may have more experience or muscle in working together and supporting folks through a challenging time (sporting hobbies for example) and it can be about the team win vs. individual success."


Sharifan has the backing of science too. Various studies show that those with hobbies outside work are more creative and higher performing at the office. We all might be limited to the 24 hours in a day, but creativity and energy levels aren't fixed -- after hours interests don't usually suck up limited bandwidth as Hauser fears, they appear to expand people's minds and raise their enthusiasm for everything they do.

...but you still shouldn't ask about hobbies in interviews.

The logical conclusion to all this is that you should preferably hire those with side projects, asking about outside interests when you interview right? Actually, nope, according to team Slack. While it's great to applaud your team's various side hustles once they're hired, quizzing candidates about their interests has serious pitfalls.

"I wouldn't want a hiring team to be distracted by someone's awesome rock band when we are looking to hire a fantastic QA engineer," Sharifan offers as an example.

But just getting sidetracked talking about the local music scene isn't the biggest danger of starting a discussion about side projects. You might also introduce unconscious bias into the hiring process. Ask about hobbies and "we may just like the person more because we have a similar project/hobby or we identify with it, which tends to align with people that are similar to us or who come from similar backgrounds." The likely result? A less diverse team.

And how about if you're the employee with side project that you're itching to take to the next level? Check out Haughey's complete post for tips on making time for the things you're passionate about outside work.

Published on: Jun 7, 2016
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of