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Stuck in a Rut? Work on Passion Projects to Reignite Motivation

Remote employees and freelancers are often highly motivated, skilled, experienced and love what they do. But even the best remote teams get stuck in a rut. Doing the same thing over and over. It can get a bit, well, repetitive.


One of the most effective ways to increase motivation, engagement and career satisfaction is through a passion project. Also known as side hustles — and, in many cases, they were known as hobbies or interests — a passion project is a great way to use career skills and experiences to explore something someone is passionate about.

Passion projects are an effective way to develop new skills, use creative energy in a constructive way, even raise the profile of a company and bring in new clients.

As an employer or client, how you view side projects can make a huge difference.

Encouraging side projects will support your team. Looking down on them could have a negative impact on morale and motivation

Passion projects and side hustles — when properly encouraged (either giving employees 10% of work time to pursue them, or outside working hours) — are exactly what employees need to feel happy at work.

Why happiness at work matters?

Happier employees are motivated, work harder and generally perform better than unhappy employees.

And this isn’t only anecdotal. Research has found that happy employees make a top and bottom-line financial difference.

Happier employees are more productive

According to a University of Warwick study, happy employees — and freelancers — are 12% more productive than unhappy staff.

There is a difference between the amount of effort someone is willing to put in when they enjoy their work than when they don’t. Clearly, this has an impact on the output and outcomes of that work.

Happy employees sell more

According to another study by Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage, when employees are happy they’re better at selling. An amazing 37% better at selling!

That really is something you can take to the bank. So if you’ve got business development or account management team members who aren’t hitting a target, that might be why.

Happy employees make fewer mistakes

When someone is passionate about their work — or at least doesn’t hate it — they are more focused and therefore make fewer mistakes. According to the same study mentioned above, accuracy improves 19% when employees are happy, engaged and motivated.

Everything from employee perks to how offices are designed are focused on moving the productivity needle.

These are only a handful of reasons why companies are investing in employee engagement programs, systems, processes, and training.

In order to achieve that goal, companies need happier, more engaged and motivated employees. Some of the ways they can do that are building a proper culture and supporting passion projects. Today we’ll focus on the latter!

Reasons to embrace passion projects

As mentioned above, supporting passion projects are great ways to motivate employees without investing heavily in employee engagement programs and systems. But there are several other reasons this is a smart move for savvy tech companies.

#1: Encouraging job crafting and taking initiative

Employees often look at jobs one of two ways: either a means to an end (a paycheck or a stepping stone to something else), or a more meaningful experience. As an employer, you want people who find their work meaningful.

@ayahya09 — Unsplash

A Yale School of Management study found that those who undertook tasks outside of their job description enjoyed their work. This is known as “job crafting.” It is a way of interweaving passions and interests into work, so as an employer, if you support passion projects, those same skills and experiences can filter back into a developers work and make it even better.

#2: Creating new opportunities

Doing something different creates new opportunities. Although it might not always seem obvious, there are often ways to incorporate the skills, experiences, even the technology into core service areas or spin-off products.

All of this gives your company new ways to generate revenue, expand into new markets, and win new clients.

#3: Improve employee retention and company sustainability

Happy employees are far less likely to go look for new opportunities to work somewhere else. In the tech sector, competition for talent is fierce. So you need to do everything you can to retain talent.

Retaining talent not only costs less in the long-run (than recruiting and training new team members), it also means your company is more sustainable and stronger, keeping the knowledge and skills in-house, instead of that talent and knowledge going to a competitor.

#4: Boost employee productivity

As we’ve noted and studies show, happier employees are more productive. They put more effort in. Are more likely to spend more time solving difficult challenges and are better mentors for new team members. Productivity benefits enormously from happy and engaged employees, which is another great reason to encourage passion projects and whenever possible, support them.

Joe Robinson, the author of Don’t Miss Your Life, found that “Studies have shown that we are more authentic when we’re at leisure than when we’re on the job.”

We need to be fully refueled and recharged to create value and embrace meaningful work, for ourselves, clients or employees.

Passion projects are a way of merging our leisure time with aspects of our work, putting us “in the world of play,” where we find our true selves. As Joe points out, “ambitious achievers understand one of the biggest secrets of productivity–the refueling principal.”

In other words, you get more done when your body and mind is refueled and recharged. You can’t work 6 or 7 days solid for 12 hours and expect to be at your best, as productive, as if you only worked 40 hours a week and spent some time engaging in a passion project. And the rest of the time enjoying yourself.

#5: Supporting the right projects

As an employer, you need to make sure that employees or freelancers are focused on core tasks for at least 90% of the time, during working hours.

If you are choosing to support passion projects the rest of the time (staffers might still work on them outside office hours — as you would expect, if they’re a passion project), they need to be the right project.

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@tranmautritam — Unsplash

Make sure these projects complement and support what someone does at work, or will support in some way their transition to a new job within the company.

Look for the project with a high transferable skills value and potential value that could be transferred to core products, services, and clients. Let’s take a look at some amazing passion projects.

5 examples of amazing passion projects

1. This Message is Medium Rare

Burgers. Who doesn’t love burgers?!

Burgers are delicious and inspiring, for designers. This is a blog — featured in advertising SquareSpace rolled out (because the creators of this project used a SquareSpace website) — about trying out different burgers and using them for design lessons and inspiration.

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@odiin — Unsplash

It sounds like an amazing thing to do in your spare time. The creators even want to create a book out of their journey’s through different burgers. True things of culinary and design-inspiring beauty!

2. A Song A Day

Thanks to streaming services, there is so much music to pick from. Having choice is wonderful, but finding new music isn’t always easy. Most of us probably listen to the same playlists and songs over and over when we’re working. One way to try something different without any effort is to subscribe to A Song A Day.

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@photoripey — Unsplash

Faced with the same problem, it was created by Shannon Byrne “kind of sort of out of demand, but mostly because a lot of people seem to be lacking resources for music discovery.” This service solves that problem by sending you one song everyday based on what you already like. Awesome! Definitely worth signing up.

3.   Getting There

Life and work in your 20s is not easy.

Everyone is figuring it out. You’ve got a lot to juggle. From picking and excelling at the right career, to studying or continuing studying — or student loan debt — to relationships, mental health, finding a house, moving, even buying a house, and a whole load of other things thrown in the mix. Adulting is hard and in your 20s it’s when everyone is working out how to adult in their own way.

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@jeshoots — Unsplash

So two twenty-somethings — a freelance designer and writer — teamed up to create this awesome podcast, Getting There. After only 15 episodes it was picked up by an internet broadcasting network.

4.    Scrum Your Wedding

Planning a wedding is stressful.

So why not apply a little scrum methodology, something that many software developers are already familiar with. A couple of friends — who work in the tech sector — got together to apply the scrum approach to wedding planning. It was created to “help people save time, money, and, most importantly, their sanity.”

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@sweeticecreamwedding — Unsplash

The creators behind it have extensive experience in event planning and management; writing, editing, and social media; Agile project management/Scrum methodology; and collaborating with designers to produce beautiful products. It is part blog, part a more detailed guide.

5.     Folk Rebellion

Fork Rebellion is a blog aimed at anyone who wants to switch off or undertake a digital detox. Created by Jess Davis, who wanted to switch off from her “fast-paced, tech-based career”, and help others do the same. Switching off isn’t easy, which is why we all need a little help.

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@brookelark — Unsplash

Plus, it comes with a small e-commerce store selling paper, arts and crafts goods and clothes.

There are so many more amazing projects out there, from blogs to podcasts to tech products and other wonderful and cool examples of turning a passion into something more.

Over to you

Passion projects, when supported the right way, encourage higher levels of productivity and job satisfaction. So many studies out there show that happy employees are more engaged, work harder, stay in the same company for longer, are more innovative, create more client and shareholder value, make fewer mistakes and provide the right sort of support for new employees.

As an employer, if you can support staff passion projects, they are going to continue to support the growth of your company and look after your clients as well as you look after them.

Explore more ways of keeping your workers happy and become an award-winning team manager!

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Mary Atamaniuk

Mary Atamaniuk is a digital content strategist at YouTeam — a curated b2b tech talent marketplace that matches businesses with dedicated development teams from pre-vetted software outsourcing agencies.

Mary's areas of interest include digital marketing, tech entrepreneurship, and influencer blogging.

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