Richard Branson is nothing short of a dreamer. From thinking that he can fund and create a viable company offering private space travel using equipment and technology all tailor-made in house, to thinking that he is able to pull off long hair well into his senescence without looking like a disgraced pantomime scarecrow - he has certainly never let the opinions of others temper his ambitions.
Well, one of the drums he has been beating of late has been for companies to adopt a more flexible approach to the working expectations they place on their employees.
In his book The Virgin Way: If It's Not Fun, It's Not Worth Doing - a title which is evidently a bit naff and would mean that a large portion of necessary work would never get done, as I feel that even the most enthusiastic mortician, say, would be hard pressed to describe their work as 'fun' - he describes how the traditional working week is becoming increasingly obsolete.
He said that the prime aim of companies should be to facilitate their employees cultivating a healthy work-life balance and , as technologies improve, it should be possible for more people to work less hours while being as, if not more, productive. He states that there is little practical reason, other than the persistence of cultural expectation, for people to continue to work the hours that they do. Jobs should be recalibrated to provide employees with more leave and shorter working weeks.
In the book he stated that, "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."
Indeed, his claims that we ought be working a far reduced working week than we currently are, are by no means a novel claim. The 20th century economist JM Keynes predicted that, with continued technological advancement, as more and more of our material needs were met more easily and cost-efficiently, our need to work would reduced. He stated that a 15-hour working week ought to have been possible by the millenium.
Evidently, unless I've missed the memo, this has not come to pass. Largely due to the fact that wealth inequality continues to grow at a phenomenal rate - with the richest 42 people in the world having as much wealth as the poorest 3.7bn in addition to myriad other factors. Though this is a far larger and insidious problem that is outside the scope, and capacity, of this article.
Richard Branson however is not only declaring that this is an approach that should be adopted by other companies. He - and I am reticent to use the phrase 'practices what he preaches' given his evident flirtations with having a Messiah Complex - but in Virgin he has implemented a policy among his workers where they are offered unlimited leave as well as a work-from-home option.
While he concedes that companies trialing shorter working weeks for their employees will initially prove perhaps somewhat tricky, it will only be a matter of time before it becomes widespread. Indeed several companies around the world have already trialed four day weeks and noted both a boost in productivity and the overall contentment of their employees. One in New Zealand that recently completed such a trial had it described as an 'unmitigated success'.
So hopefully this will be a movement that increasingly gathers steam.