Billionaire Richard Branson is pushing business leaders to embrace the idea of flexible work arrangements, claiming that with today's cutting-edge technology, there is no reason people can't work less hours and be equally — if not more — effective.
Hard work is key, but enjoying what you do and having fun is just as crucial, said the adventurous, fun-loving founder of Virgin. In his international best seller "The Virgin Way: If It's Not Fun, It's Not Worth Doing," he wrote that "fun is one of the most important — and underrated — ingredients in any successful venture."
Branson often touts the importance of relaxing, recharging and reconnecting with the people you love and believes flexible working allows Virgin's staff to find a better balance between their work and private lives. "Through this balance they become happier and more productive," he said.
Virgin offers its employees unlimited leave and a work-from-home option. "It's easier to attract top talent when you are open and flexible," Branson said in a recent blog post. "It's not effective or productive to force them to behave in a conventional way."
And he believes advances in technology fully supports the transition.
Instead of fearing robots will take over jobs, he says technology should be embraced, because innovation is making it possible to do more work in less time, which means employees should be free to have more personal time to do the things they want to do.
"Many people out there would love three-day or even four-day weekends," said Branson. "Everyone would welcome more time to spend with their loved ones, more time to get fit and healthy, more time to explore the world."
The billionaire knows a thing or two about balancing work and family life. Virgin Group, his venture capital investment firm, has an interest in more than 60 businesses, from trains and planes to spaceships and tech. His businesses serve 53 million customers, employ 69,000 people in 53 countries and reaps nearly $22 billion in annual revenue. When Branson isn't focusing on growing the Virgin businesses, he's meeting with world leaders about global issues through his philanthropic arm, Virgin Unite.
Flexible work is 'a powerful tool if used properly'
The mega-entrepreneur, whose estimated net worth currently stands at $5.1 billion, became a staunch advocate of flex and part-time work after the birth of his first child, in 2005. Now he is pushing other business leaders to embrace the idea, campaigning that it is beneficial not only to the employee but to the employers as well.
"The flexibility to stay home (even just occasionally) could be the difference between a parent advancing in their career and having to quit. Companies that forbid the practice put pressure on families and limit opportunities for working parents — and that's not good for anyone," he said.
But Branson also cautions that flexible work "is a powerful tool for good — but only if it's used properly."
"It's not just a case of dishing out a laptop and letting someone work from home, or chopping a day off their working week and expecting the same output. Truly flexible roles have flexibility built in rather than added on, and are designed to suit employers and employees alike."
Being paid more for working less time can be tricky, and Branson admits it's a "difficult balancing act to get right." Nevertheless, the billionaire entrepreneur believes flexible working arrangements will be the norm in the not-so-distant future, and business leaders need to get on board.
One reason, Branson says, is that the modern workforce is already evolving. Although many organizations are investing heavily in perks and newly designed offices to make employees happier at work, more people want the freedom to spend time with family and to get things done. Ease of connectivity is allowing people to work from anywhere — one survey reveals that 43 percent of American workers work remotely at least part of the time.
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Second, he says, is that telecommuting improves productivity. Happy employees make better workers. So it's no surprise that workers who telecommute report greater job satisfaction. Without a long commute, workers can actually start their day earlier and be more productive. The opportunity to work at home also makes it possible for employers to retain top workers.
Employing remote workers could also slash real estate costs, he said.
In the end, Branson claims that trust is key. "Flexible working is smart working. Screw business as usual. If you trust your people to make their own decisions, they will reward you," he said.