Proof that flexible working works

Richard and Holly Branson looking at an Apple laptop
Image from Virgin.com
A close up of Richard Branson smiling, looking at the camera
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 25 April 2019

It’s wonderful to hear about two success stories of how flexible working has helped people achieve their dreams of becoming an author. At Virgin, we believe flexible working is smart working. The tried and tested route is not always the best path to success. Thinking differently can open up great opportunities and possibilities.

At Virgin Management we have a number of flexible working initiatives – like working from home, unlimited leave, integrated technology, and wellbeing in the workplace. This means we treat our employees like the capable adults they are. Flexible working encourages our team to find a better balance between their work and private lives, and through this balance they become happier and more productive.

One impressive example is from Molly Dillon, who joined our foundation Virgin Unite in 2018 after working in President Obama’s White House. She said working flexibly really helped her to co-author her new book, Yes She Can. The book is a fascinating view into the Obama White House, written by 10 women (curated by Molly).

Molly Dillon standing with a helicopter behind her
Image from Molly Dillon

She said she wrote most of the book in the evenings and during weekends, but has been speaking at events and bookstores around the United States to promote the message of encouraging more young women to enter public service. While the Virgin Unite team is based in New York and London, with her laptop, iPhone, and amazing team, she can bring her Virgin Unite office with her on the go. It allows her to travel and work remotely during the day and then talk about her book in the evenings.

Molly Dillon at the White House
Image from Molly Dillon

The other great example is from our Group Legal Director Rob Blok. He knows better than anyone that the emails and calls can come at all times and frequently travels all over the world to help negotiate deals for the Virgin Group. We were actually on a trip in Dubai recently when he told me how Virgin’s flexible working policy has helped his wife Rachael to write her first novel Under The Ice (huge congrats!) as he could be around more at home. Robert said being able to work flexibly from home meant that even with them both having busy jobs and two children, his wife could attend a creative writing course to develop her talent, meet with agents, publishers and bookshops and between them they could still make all the pick-ups, assemblies and performances.

Rachael and Rob Blok with her novel Under the Ice
Image from Rob Blok

I’m a big believer that with the technology we have today, balancing family and business should be easier, not harder. Both partners should be able to work, realise their potential and raise a family; and flexible working enables people at Virgin Management to do this. And with this comes improvement for everyone’s wellbeing and that makes us better in all aspects of our lives.

Rob and Molly are great examples of why flexible working works. They are both extremely diligent and working from home or wherever they are in the world doesn’t have an impact on their quality of work – but why should it? It’s archaic to assume that people do their best work at a desk. I have never worked from an office, preferring to combine working hard with spending time with my family.

Richard Branson turned away from the camera on the phone by the window
Image from Virgin.com

Treating people like adults is one of the reasons why we attract such brilliant people: it’s easier to attract top talent when you are open and flexible. It’s not effective or productive to force them to behave in a conventional way. There are commercial benefits to smart working too, including the potential reduction of real estate costs.

Flexible working may not be for every industry, organisation, or person, but it has been smart for Virgin. While we’re still working out how to best measure its success, we’ve noticed a change for good in our people’s morale, and we’re sure the quantifiable benefits will prove to be substantial. Flexible working is smart working. Screw business as usual. If you trust your people to make their own decisions, they will reward you. 

Congratulations to Molly and Rachael for writing your first books – and to Rob for all the hard work behind the scenes helping make it happen.