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Virgin founder Richard Branson offers unlimited holidays for staff

Sir Richard Branson says Virgin will stop tracking annual leave for some employees as new working practices look to boost productivity.

It’s a well-established fact that the way we live and work is changing. New technology is making it easier to build greater flexibility and freedom into the working day, and a new generation of millennial workers is prioritising a good work-life balance. Businesses, too, are beginning to understand the benefits that a new approach to work could bring.

 

Unlimited leave

This week, Sir Richard Branson posted an excerpt from his latest book on his Virgin blog page, in which he explained that Virgin has stopped tracking annual leave at its parent company in the UK and US.

Sir Branson is taking a lead from Netflix, which has become the world leader in multimedia streaming thanks to dedicated staff who work unconventional hours.  Employees were increasingly working at any time, whenever they picked up an email or a text about their job, meaning that there was essentially no way of tracking the time they spent working. So how could Netflix track their time away?

The streaming service now works by allowing staff to take time off whenever they want, with no prior approval and no way of tracking how much time they take. All the firm expects is that they will make sure their absence will not damage the business itself – for example, when projects are on track and their team is functioning well.

Virgin has now adopted the same policy, although the number of people employed at its parent company is relatively small. But if the system proves successful at the parent company, Sir Branson says he will encourage all subsidiaries to follow suit.

 

Out of office

Earlier this year, German car manufacturer Daimler introduced measures to make sure that when employers do take breaks, they’re not dragged back into answering work-related emails or dreading coming back to a bursting inbox.

Now, the carmaker has installed software that can automatically delete any incoming emails when they are on vacation. A response is sent to the sender with alternative contact details for another member of staff while telling them their original message will never be read.

Using the software is optional, so it isn’t clear how many staff have actually adopted it. But Oliver Wihofski, spokesperson for Daimler, told Time that it has been popular with the firm’s German staff. By helping employees to come back refreshed and without hundreds of emails to filter through, it is hoped the initiative will lead to higher productivity.

 

Side projects

Google became famous for its “20 per cent time” policy, which allowed every employee to spend a fifth of their time working on something completely unrelated to their day-to-day role. Some of its biggest projects, like Gmail and Google Talk, came from the policy.

It has recently decided to axe the policy, but several other companies have picked up the mantle by allowing staff to spend some time on their own pet projects. Apple, LinkedIn and Microsoft have all introduced schemes that allow tech employees to work on their own ideas, giving them space to be creative so that staff are happier. The fact that great ideas that might otherwise have never emerged can give those companies an edge is also an advantage.


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