5% time

Stephen Evans
Tuesday 16 March 2021

For a number of years, the digital communications team has reserved an afternoon per two-week sprint. The idea for this stemmed from Google’s 20% policy where Google reportedly allowed employees to spend 20% of their time working on projects for Google that may or may not be outside their role. The aim is to empower employees to be more creative and innovative.

In our case, an afternoon per two-week sprint represents about 5% of our work load. Having this time set aside has been used for a number of initiatives, the most successful have been those where we have worked as a team to solve a problem or explore a new concept or idea.

Now that we are all working from home, we have been challenged to be creative as a team while doing so remotely. This article summarises how we have successfully continued to use 5% time to be creative individually and as a team by holding a series of virtual symposiums. Our 5% time now falls into three stages:

  1. Individually find an article of interest and create a short presentation.
  2. Give the presentation to the team.
  3. Create a blog post.

These steps span three sprints, or six weeks. Over the past year we have now had six symposiums covering the following areas.

10 best intranets

We purchased a copy of 10 best intranets of 2020 from the Nielson Norman Group which goes into great detail about each successful design. Each team member was given a case study to analyse and asked to find something that the University could benefit learning from.

Analysing all 10 intranets would have been too much work for one person. By dividing the workload, we all learnt something from each other and developed presentation skills.

Nielsen Norman Group

For the next symposium, each team member was asked to use their 5% time to find an article on the Nielsen Norman Group website that they found interesting.

The Nielson Norman Group are world leaders in user experience. They have a wealth of experience and insights that we could benefit from. By having each team member research an article and then share their views, we were able as a team to learn so much more than if we had been doing this individually. We discussed topics as diverse as how to optimise web forms to how provide feedback to web authors.

Smashing Magazine

The team had a subscription to Smashing Magazine – another excellent source of articles on user design best practices. Each team member found an article of interest and then shared it with the team.


Paul Boag has a wealth of experience in digital best practice. Paul was instrumental in helping us redesign the University course pages and putting in place policies and procedures that helped us set standards for further developments. His website – Boagworld – has lots of great articles that are engaging and relevant.

Ad hoc

We have widened our scope to finding anything that we find interesting or want to learn more about. The past two symposiums have followed this approach. It has covered a wide range of topics from the information scent of links to how Web 3.0 will impact higher education.


Anyone who is part of a team would benefit from the approach we have taken to research, presenting and sharing the knowledge via a blog. It has been a low-stress and enjoyable way to be creative and increase our skills while working remotely.

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