Google isn't the only company that gives employees time to tinker.

Michael Dubakov, CEO of Targetprocess, a project management software company in Amherst, New York, allows employees to devote 20 percent of their time to development activities. They call this "Orange Fridays," and it means he gets a lot less work out of his employees, right? Well, Dubakov sees it differently.

For him, allowing employees to grow on company time helps his business, too. They may not be dreaming up ideas like driverless cars, but Targetprocess's employees are learning new skills that can lead to greater efficiencies.

Lead developer Alex Fomin put his experience with Orange Fridays like this: "I've learned a bunch of new technologies: I've created a simple android application, and now I have a clue of mobile development," he says, adding: "I have a deeper vision of the functional programming paradigm that I use in my everyday work."

Just how does this work? Dubakov explains:

Each Friday is dedicated to personal projects or learning. Many people do Coursera courses, read articles, or check out new technologies. Some people form development teams and work on various products, like mobile apps and games, graphical charting libraries, Chrome add-ins for Targetprocess, internal build board systems to help developers inside a company be more efficient, etc. Basically, it is time during the week that people can dedicate to learning or interesting projects that they normally wouldn't have time to do.

It sounds totally awesome, and some of the benefits are obvious--like employees learning more skills, but some are not quite as obvious. Here are some of the benefits Targetprocess has seen:

  • People have to manage time more efficiently, and there is less routine, which helps keep work interesting, because there are only four working days.
  • It attracts employees who want to learn and grow.
  • It is easier to retain people because they have the option to try something new on their own.
  • People acquire new skills faster.
  • Several interesting products have been started through this program. One of them is already really helpful for the development team. Another one has led to a cool Chrome extension for Targetprocess. Other products are in the early stages but seem promising.

Should you implement a program like Orange Fridays at your office? It is a pretty big risk to let your employees focus on their own projects one day out of the week, but the benefits can be worth looking into. And if giving people whole days is too much for your business, consider starting smaller, by allowing people to take a class or two, or cross-train, or do something out of the ordinary.

To be clear, Orange Friday isn't a day off. Employees still have to be at work and still have to be "working," but they can be focused on what they think will make them a better person and a better employee.

After all, employees that are developing their skills can be better employees and perhaps even become the best. And isn't that what you're looking for in an employee?