Gaining and keeping a competitive advantage is a challenge in-and-of itself, but it’s nearly impossible when your most talented people suffer from burn out or leave to launch their own start-ups. Internet giants Google and AOL seem to have the answer: internal startup incubators. While few companies have the resources to execute a program of similar scale, with the right tools any company can harness their people’s creativity.
Google’s Area 120 and AOL’s Area 51 are internal startup incubators designed to provide employees (and, in AOL’s case, recent graduates) with the time and money needed to “bring a disruptive idea to life.” Both companies require employees to apply for an opportunity to work on their projects full-time for either “a few months” in the case of Google or six months at AOL.
The idea of “losing” top talent for months at a time to work on unproven projects might not sit well with many companies. There’s the issue of finding and paying for temporary help to cover the employee’s regular job responsibilities as well as the cost involved to support the incubator. But for some companies this is a small price to pay if it means employees are less likely to defect to a competitor or leave to start their own business, and it enables the company to “reignite the rush of entrepreneurial fervor.”
Given that millennials will comprise 75% of the American workforce by 2025, retention and maintaining an entrepreneurial culture are legitimate concerns for these tech companies. According to a survey by Bentley University, more than two-thirds (67%) of millennials said their career goals involve starting their own business. What’s more, the average tenure for millennials is only two years, and it costs an average of $24,000 to replace each millennial employee.
Bottom line: Millennial disaffection is a real threat to future business success. Encouraging employees to pursue their ideas on the company’s dime may be just the thing to keep them happy and engaged, and give their companies that competitive edge – both in the marketplace and as an employer.
For Google, at least, the payoff from Area 120 is highly likely. “Area 120 is a nod to Google’s longstanding tradition of letting employees devote 20% of their time to their own projects if those projects are greenlighted by the company,” writes Jessica Guynn for USA Today. You might recognize some of those projects: Gmail, AdSense and Google News. That’s great news for companies that lack the wherewithal to reassign key talent to an incubator full time.
Whether you give employees the flexibility to work on personal projects on a full- or part-time basis, setting up a dedicated area (120, 50, or whatever number comes to mind) isn’t feasible for most organizations. This is where a video collaboration solution can help. With video conferencing, engineers can easily connect and share content with colleagues regardless of their location, reducing the need to relocate employees or to establish a dedicated space for the program. Video capture and archiving can also improve the team’s productivity and accessibility. Team members around the world can watch meetings during their own, local work hours and add their contribution to the archive to advance the concept being discussed.
On the other hand, employees who do move to another workspace for incubator projects can use video collaboration tools to stay abreast of developments in their “home” departments with minimal disruption to project work. Video conferencing solutions allow employees to meet with each other live, face-to-face for ad hoc and scheduled meetings.
Employees can also review these meetings when incubator projects are over to understand what decisions were made in their absence and the logic behind them, so that employees can more easily and quickly assimilate back into their previous roles.
As we transition to an innovation economy, it will become increasingly important for companies to not only retain but also optimize the talent they have on staff. Engaging people via the projects that are near and dear to them will benefit both parties.