Richard Branson on Parenting and Work-Life Balance
Editor's Note: Entrepreneur Richard Branson regularly shares his business experience and advice with readers. Ask him a question and your query might be the inspiration for a future column.
Q: My first child was born last year, and I'm finding it difficult to maintain a work-life balance. As a father yourself, how have you managed? -- Daniel
Congratulations on becoming a father! Raising a child is the most wonderful experience you can have, and also the most important responsibility. Over three decades of fatherhood I have tried to put everything toward being a good dad -- I value this over and above any professional success.
When my two children, Holly and Sam, were growing up, my wife, Joan, focused her time mostly on raising the kids, and I worked from home -- at first from our houseboat, which we moored on a canal in London's Little Venice neighborhood, and now from my hammock on Necker Island in the Caribbean. I also took my family along on work trips whenever possible, so I was often on the spot to deal with minor mishaps. We shared many joyous moments.
If you share in your kids' lives and give them a chance to take part in yours, you will have a much better relationship with them, and you will waste far less energy worrying about what they are doing. One of the great things I learned from my children was that I was a better parent when I was also their friend. When they needed guidance or discipline, I'd recall my own youthful misadventures and explain how I resolved those problems and what I learned from them. I carried over that sort of sharing, understanding and energy to my work life, and I believe that it made me a better manager.
If you are struggling to juggle your home life with your career commitments, both can suffer. Part of the solution may be to treat time with your family as a priority. When you're facing an avalanche of appointments, book time to spend with your family -- put it in your work diary. You will also need to prepare your colleagues for those times when an emergency will come up at home and you'll need to drop everything to deal with it, because this is almost certain to happen.
But rather than thinking of these two aspects of your life as antagonistic, why not combine them? As I've often said, I don’t divide work and play: It's all living.
For the first 10 years or more, you may need to work different hours or perhaps you simply won't be able to commute to the office quite as often, but these days, that's not an obstacle. Flexible hours enabled by technology can allow parents to perform well at their jobs and take care of young children at the same time. If you're an employee, talk with your boss about how working from home could boost your productivity, remembering to share some specific examples of how your work will improve.
If you run a business, consider investing in technology that will allow you and your staff to work flexible hours -- your investment will pay dividends in the long run. You will all be less stressed by long commutes and less discouraged about missing those special moments, from first steps to first words, so you will have more space to think creatively. We have recently introduced a new solution at Virgin that allows people to access their desktop computers on any device, from any location. You may even find that it saves you money because fewer people are in the office and can share desks (a practice known as "hot desking"). Overall, this is about giving people options.
But if you opt to work from home more often, make sure that you don’t become a slave to technology -- manage your phone, don't let it manage you. I get through emails, check social media and answer calls in batches, switching on the necessary devices to deal with those things that need my attention and then switching them off again to focus on other matters.
Just as you'll help your kids with their homework, you may find that they can take part in yours. Of course, this doesn't apply to everyone, but discussing your work with them can be a good way to spend time together and can help you see problems from a new perspective. Some of my best ideas came from conversations with Holly and Sam. I'm very fortunate, in that Holly now works with us at Virgin on health issues as a special projects manager, and we've collaborated with Sam on various creative projects, like his diary about his Arctic travels.
However you decide to resolve your situation, I think you'll find that your supervisors and colleagues will be much more understanding of your needs than you might expect. As more women have entered the workforce in recent decades, one of the benefits has been that people have become much more aware of the importance of fathers -- and more supportive of efforts to be a great dad.