'Creativity loves constraints': The paradox of Google's twenty percent time

Walker, Abe
November 2011
Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization;Nov2011, Vol. 11 Issue 4, p369
Academic Journal
This article takes as its central object of study Google's innovative time off program, colloquially known as '20 Percent Time'. This program represents a radical departure from conventional approaches to organizing the workday, and is quickly gaining traction in the technology sector and beyond. Under the directive of management, Google programmers devote 20% of their working time to independent projects of their own choosing. While this program offers the appearance of freedom, it is shown that 20 Percent Time actually has the opposite effect, intensifying managerial control and heightening exploitation. The paper situates 20 Percent Time in relation to existing literature on workplace control, especially labour process theory and the critical management studies tradition, as well as Derrida's notion of the gift. It is shown that while 20 Percent Time is a crucial component of Google's attempts to control their employees, it is fraught with contradictions that may contribute to its undoing. The paper concludes by posing some possibilities for resistance within and against 20 Percent Time


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