I listen to a fair number of podcasts about entrepreneurship and also try to keep up with what is going on in the indie game development scene. I hear a lot of stories about software developers moonlighting their side projects, putting in hours and hours of development on side projects because they are either extremely passionate about the project or would really love to escape their regular job... or rarely, but occasionally, both. On the other hand I hear stories of people taking the leap and quitting  their job entirely to sink or swim on their own. Perhaps in extreme cases there are people who actually attempt to get fired with the hopes of living off unemployment for a chunk of time. What I rarely ever hear about is people reducing hours at their day job so they have the additional time to work on their projects without completely sacrificing time with their family or potentially going broke trying to make it on their own. Why aren't there companies and people doing this?

This isn't an uncommon thing in lower paying careers. I've worked in retail and fast-food and it wasn't uncommon to hear a request to be moved to part-time to allow for other things to be pursued... college for example.

I think most people doing work with any degree of cognitive load spend a considerable amount of time not working at work. There are casual conversations that happen, discussions with managers, meetings that could be emails, time spent eating or getting coffee, etc. At best you might only be getting 30 hours of work out of someone. Now, if an employee isn't engaged and is bored or wants to be doing something else with their life that number probably drops considerably. As Peter Gibbons in Office Space attests... "I'd say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work."

Sure, some companies have high employee engagement. I would bet the people who work at a place like Riot Games are doing exactly what they want to be doing in their life at this point in time. However, I would guess that for most companies the employees just aren't that into what the they have them working on. If, for example, you work for a company that handles the distribution of snack cakes... unless you are passionate about distribution or snack cakes you probably dream of working on something else. These kinds of companies probably only get 20 to 30 hours of actual work a week out of most people... or less?

What if companies started hiring for or offering optional 20 hour work weeks for employees? At reduced pay/bene's of course... part-time or half-time work. As I found, some independent contractors already work under these types of circumstances, and that seems to work well for them. Could this sort of arrangement increase the overall value that a person provides a company?

I wonder if anyone has studied an arrangement like this. Let's assume that a highly motivated individual could accomplish the same amount of work in 20 hours as an unmotivated person at 40 hours. Why would any company turn down the chance to pay 1/2 the pay for the same amount of work?

The big question here is... by reducing the hours of someone to 20 hours a week make them more motivated and engaged during those 20 hours? I would think yes... but have no idea. I would think that a company offering such a thing be seen as the body that enables one to pursue what they want instead of the thing that hinders the pursuit. Making the company heroic in a sense... perhaps more deserving of hard work?

I could imagine that this would be an ideal situation for many entrepreneurs trying to bootstrap a business. Many trying to do this and hold a full time job must sacrifice family, friends, or sleep to do so. Wouldn't it be nice to have 20 hours a week more to put into your project without completely leaving the so-called safety of your day job? I think at this point I would be willing to take a 50% pay/benefit cut for 50% less hours if I had something I was trying to get off the ground... would you?

I could go on about this for hours... positing anecdotes and hypothetical situations. What I really want here is a place to continue the conversation I started on Twitter about this. Here are some questions to get this rolling:

  1. Have you worked in a situation like this?
  2. Would you accept 1/2 pay and less or no benefits for a 20 hour work week if it meant you could work on your side projects or make more time for family?
  3. Are there companies that take on part-time/half-time software developers?
    1. If so, how has it worked out?
    2. If not, why not?
  4. Do you think it would be worthwhile for companies to give this a spin?
  5. Do you think software developers would be more or less engaged in this type of situation?

Let me know what you think, please leave comments below...

P.S. I think I have to approve new commentators so if you comment and it doesn't show up check back within a day and it will be on there...