“Research day is coming” – it has been a year since the team began receiving this message bi-weekly, reminding that it’s time to do something else.
When starting the practice of Research Days, we took into account the practices already existing in the market. Thus, LinkedIn, Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc. have similar programs that vary in the degree of freedom allowed the employees. It is a well-known fact that Google’s 20% Time scheme gave birth to Gmail and AdSense.
However, is a company able to survive in a highly competitive environment allowing its employees to spend 10-20% of the worktime on side projects? The answer is, for sure, no. Google added some clarifications to the previously existing 20% Time scheme, namely not to exceed existing Google projects in scope. Speaking of this practice in Google now, it has been almost stopped. Every employee must discuss their eligibility for the participation in the 20% Time scheme with their manager.
Our team has an approved “Research Day”. It happens once every two weeks (the exact frequency is decided upon within individual projects) when the engineers are free from their current tasks and are able to spend the time on researching new technologies, creating prototypes, searching for alternative solutions, and everything else that is usually time consuming and complex. From the very beginning, it has been declared that all research should benefit the company.
The practice of having Research Days began on 2014.11.28. Spending 10% of monthly worktime, employees have an opportunity to increase their competence level, search for interesting ideas and solutions for the daily routine, work with technologies that are currently not used in the project, but might be helpful, and, the most important, realize their creative potential on company time. Engineers can also take part in improving development processes and tools. This is especially important for companies that have been working on one product for several years, and for which the change of technological stack is always painful.
The Research Day adheres to the following pattern: first, engineers make a public draft of the topics they want to research. The document is public, which enables engineers to find likeminded employees and collaborate on research. Then they start working on the project, and the next day the team collectively sums up the results of their work.
According to statistics, about 80% of employees actively take part in the Research Day, 95 % support this initiative and consider this a valuable opportunity. Engineers suggest that it makes their work more effective and less routine, and enables them to discover new technologies and services during the worktime.
Focused and directed freethinking makes changes in our company culture. Giving employees an opportunity to concentrate their imagination according to the company’s strategic goals provides a greater dynamism inside the group and creates a new direction of development for the whole company.
In less than a year, engineers researched 70 projects aimed at improving the internal services and code, adding new development tools, and improving the efficiency of work patterns. For instance, the Gitman extension (“push-to-deploy” support in Plesk) providing the basic functionality for site deployment and Git repository management was born. In addition, the Docker image for Plesk has been created.
Also, a good example of what appeared as the result of the Research Day is Let’s Encrypt service. It enables Plesk users to install a free trusted certificate on any of their websites, which not only encrypts the connection between the website and the visitor’s browser, but also displays the website as trusted, meaning that the visitor will not be shown a warning about the certificate’s authenticity. This advantage over self-signed certificates is especially relevant when securing an E-commerce website. In addition to issuing free certificates, Let’s Encrypt also provides the tools for recalling and renewing them, which, in theory, should save system administrators a lot of time and effort.
As the result of having Research Days, we developed a vision for evolving the internal infrastructure management and changing the product’s technological stack. We consider the Research Day to be effective, as it promotes flexibility and open-mindedness in engineers.