The twist? Exploration Days takes place just once a year. The process begins with an Exploration Days wiki, on which IT staffers can post ideas and attract collaborators if they're looking for them. Teams and individuals work on their project on one of two days (in order to provide flexibility); the third day, dubbed Report Out Day, combines an ice cream social with presentations from the teams about what they've achieved.
Beck and her team considered both monthly and quarterly programs before deciding to start with an annual event, which first took place in August of 2011. A second one is underway for this summer.
Participation isn't mandatory, but a majority of Beck's 300 employees did participate last year, she says, and last year's discussions have already borne fruit. One team tackled the ongoing problem of configuring incoming students' personal electronic devices for the university's wireless network. It developed a new, more simplified process that saved time for both the students and the IT staff.
Checklist: How to start an innovation time-off program
Thinking of starting a "Google 20%"-type innovation time-off program in your department? Here's some advice from IT managers who have paved the way: