For businesses around the world, this is a time for reflection on the year gone by and planning for the year ahead. Remember to reward your staff for their hard work and to give them time off so they can relax with their loved ones.
I am writing this as members of my family begin to arrive on Necker Island so that we can celebrate the holidays together. We are lucky in that we get on fantastically well, and we all share a love of fun and adventure. We would do anything for each other.
There has never been a time in my life when my family has not been loving and supportive, and this has made a tremendous difference to my business, helping me to take chances and believe in myself during hard times. For that reason, I have always tried to make business a family affair at Virgin.
To build a successful business, you need to treat your employees like family. That means looking after them in the same way as you do your brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties, nephews and nieces, parents and children. Many entrepreneurs tell me they think of their staff as family, but I have seen some of them acting in ways that makes me happy that I am not related!
How do you build camaraderie at your business, where you are surrounded by colleagues you may or may not get on with? First, you need to construct the right creative environment. It is better not to segregate employees from different departments, but to give everyone the freedom to mingle and make new connections. And when you are setting up your office, include areas where they can meet, relax and share ideas.
Above all, give people time to get to know each other. Most of your employees spend more time with their workmates than they do with their families, so they ought to learn a bit about one another. And in the same way that families need to go out together now and then, so that they don’t just see each other at home, colleagues shouldn’t only see each other at work.
Encourage them to socialise, eat together and hold meetings out of the office environment every now and then.
For many years at Virgin, we had staff parties where everybody celebrated our successes. Much like family get-togethers, they were often hilarious nights where everybody let their hair down. As you can imagine, these occasions were memorable – so memorable, in fact, that many people can’t remember them! Everyone knew they were in a friendly environment where they could be themselves and have fun.
Sadly, there are some people who just do not get on. Even within families, siblings sometimes end up at loggerheads. My wife Joan and I have been lucky as Holly and Sam are the best of friends; they even bought homes next to each other. However, if you find you have employees who don’t particularly like each other, it doesn’t mean they can’t be productive together.
The key is demanding a culture of respect and appreciation for each other’s skills: If you do this yourself, then your managers and other employees will do the same.
Staying in touch
Another crucial part of maintaining your family relationships is staying in touch. I’m lucky because when I travel for business, often some of my family members can accompany me. My daughter Holly recently joined me in Mojave, California, to check out Virgin Galactic’s latest progress.
My son, Sam, has also been able to come on a few trips, and I’ve been proudly watching him work on promoting his documentary on the failed war on drugs called, Breaking The Taboo.
When my family members aren’t present, I always call them. It’s good to catch up on everybody’s news and hear their voices when I’m on the other side of the world.
At a business, colleagues should try to stay in touch as much as possible. When you can’t meet in person, then phones, video calls and social media are great too. I love to be present at the moment when members of our team who have worked together for years in different countries finally meet each other in person – there is often such genuine affection between them already.
Above all, colleagues should take care of each other. If someone on your team is struggling, give them some encouragement, push them in the right direction and show them that you care by helping however you can. But do not let your position as boss colour your friendships with your employees: as with your own family, you must offer advice and support only, and give them room to make their own decisions and pursue their own dreams.
By creating an environment in which your employees are genuinely supported, you’ll find that they are more willing to make connections with others, to share ideas and take creative risks.
And by encouraging these strong, warm ties, you’ll find that you have not only built a growing business, but also that your staff has become your second family.
(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He has recently published two books: “Screw Business as Usual” and “Like a Virgin.” He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)
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@2012 Richard Branson. (Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate.)