Hack day at our companies seems to have major benefits.
What is Hack Day
Hack Day is a practice of encouraging our employees at our companies to be relieved of the things that they are required to do for a temporary amount of time so that they can do what they want to do.
Why would a company do this?
The cost of Hack Day
Of course, if we relieve someone of their defined job for a day or two or more, the company is not receiving the benefit of what they usually do. She usually codes for the video player UI. But today she is not, so that new feature doesn't get done yet.
There are other costs, but this is probably the main one. If we see the Hack Day as a day of zero productivity and nothing gained, we're likely going to avoid it by questioning its inordinate cost.
But what are the things that can come out of Hack Day?
The gifts of Hack Day
Commonly cited is the fact that some great feature at some great company got its start on a Hack Day. And it's true: I've seen it happen.
But what else is there? Here are a few gifts that Hack Day can bring that might be unexpected:
It allows people to self organize
They find who they work together well with. They work across the organizational boundaries. This creates connections that didn't exist before. The communication channels of our companies expand, like new neurons in the brain. People who barely knew of another's existence realize that they can create value for each other and thus the greater business.
It helps people play to their strengths
On Hack Day, we get to choose our work. Of course, we're hopefully employed according to our own will every day. But Hack Day is special because we can choose the specifics of what we want to do. In this way, we have a moment to shine at something that we're likely good and interested in. This likely leads to great engagement in the moment and hopefully carry-over into the day-to-day.
It opens peoples' imaginations
On Hack Day, we are prompted to dream a bigger. We are unimpeded by daily reaility. This is funny, since the deadline for Hack Day can be as little as 8 hrs away from the start. But it ends up feeling like we are unconstrained and that our imagination is the only limit. Of course, once we get started, we might find a few more.
It lets people address what they see as most important
If someone sees an opportunity for the business to improve, they have full authority to pursue it on Hack Day. They don't have to ask. They run the company for the day. Of course, what comes out of all this is an experience report, some artifact, and maybe a proposal. That can be acted on or not by leadership at a later time. But the lack of needed permission and people becoming willing to speak up about things they view as significant is a great gift.
It lets people practice championing ideas
When we form a team, we have to convince others to join. When we give our experience report, we have to express why it was important and what is possible with what we've created. This is a great practice in communication and socialization. We can inspire on anothers' imaginations as well.
Hack Day isn't a day off
So Hack Day is a welcome change, but it's not just people asking for a day off. It's not a lost day for the business. In fact, it may be the source of some unexpected gifts that can strengthen and build our businesses over the long term.