A client of ours was planning to introduce a weekly day of improvement, and since we have a similar schedule, asked for my advice, particularly from a management perspective. In addition to sharing it with them, I thought I’d refine my answer and share it here for everyone else as well. I hope it helps!
What is Investment Time?
As you may already know, at thoughtbot we reserve at least 20 days per year for what we call Investment Time. This is time for improving ourselves, our company, and our community. For most people, this manifests itself as working on client work Monday-Thursday and taking Friday as an Investment Day. Some activities, like conducting interviews, participating in our DEI Council, etc. are not considered investment time but occur on Fridays, and then we have holidays, time off, etc. so that amounts to at least 20 days specifically reserved for improvement each year.
Understanding the purpose
For people who are not accustomed to this idea, they may view it as 4 days of work and one day “not working”. My best advice is to correct this notion, and build up a culture that understands that this day is not a day of not working, rather it is a day of working just as hard on something different. And to be as clear as possible on what that something different is and why you do it.
For us, this schedule and the point of this day comes from our value of Continuous Improvement. Having time set aside each week to reflect on how we are working and the time to make actual incremental change to it makes the rest of our working days even better and more productive.
Sometimes this manifests in creating open source that we can then use to make ourselves better and faster in our product work, and sometimes it manifests in learning something new that we can use. It also can be individuals improving something about the company itself that they see could be better.
Over time we also layered in external improvement as well. So improving our communities, such as through volunteering, even in ways that are entirely non-tech related, are now considered worthwhile uses of that time.
Also, there is a reason why we called it Investment Time. We chose the word “investment” because we wanted to build up that cultural understanding that this is an important thing we are collectively choosing to spend our company time and money on. When people and companies choose to invest in something, they do it with the expectation of eventually getting a return on that investment. That does not mean that every investment ultimately works out and has a return, so it’s ok to take risks with the individual choices for how to spend that time, but it should be done with seriousness and intentionality. When deciding to spend your investment time on something, you should believe that it is a good investment with a good potential payoff. As a result, how people spend this time is evaluated as part of their overall performance.
Introducing Investment Time at your company
For organizations other than thoughtbot, it’s OK if Continuous Improvement is the underlying value and reason to have this schedule. I think Continuous Improvement, in general, is an excellent way for organizations to work, and recommend it.
However, it is also possible once you clarify your company’s purpose for this time, that you’ll find there is some different underlying motivation at your organization for this schedule and the existence of this day. Therefore, at your company, it’s possible that the time should be used for something else, treated differently, and even called something else.
I would even go so far as to say that if there is some different underlying motivation for this time in your culture, then trying to exactly mirror what we have done would likely not result in it being successful. So I encourage you and your organization to do some self-exploration and make sure you understand the core values behind this to make it as successful as you want it to be.