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Making Work/Life Balance Work in Your Entrepreneurial Company

B.J. Hawkins, Ph.D., Founder, President and CEO, OFST The Business Do, OFST The Business DoctorsT

Entrepreneurs are notorious for their commitment to working long hours to build their businesses. In 1989, when I turned my attention from corporate work to my own company, OFS, I was no exception.

OFS is also known as The Business Doctors, because we provide business process reengineering services to companies. Back then, it was consuming the bulk of my time and energy. I was working an average of 18 hours a day. A lot of our clients were located in the Caribbean, and flights from the West Coast are long and arduous.

Fortunately, I've engaged for years in a practice of self-reflection, asking trusted advisors to help me see myself as others do. In the early 1990s, their message was clear: I had been paying lip service to a desire for more free time, but my actions were indicating otherwise.

That, in turn, led to a change on my part: a commitment to incorporating balance into my life – and into the life of my company. It's a commitment that I would advise other entrepreneurs make as well. For contrary to the prevailing wisdom, I do not see a dichotomy between running a hard-nosed business—which OFS is—and being soft about the need to focus on other aspects of life.

In fact, when applied to employees as well as the entrepreneur, balance makes for a more committed staff and thus a more prosperous enterprise.

A Framework for Balance

Bringing balance to an entrepreneurial concern is a multi-faceted undertaking, and it is my intent in this article to walk you through the process.

That said, it is necessary first to underscore that achieving balance is, indeed, a process rather than a specific program. Just how it plays out is likely to be different in a start up than in a rapidly growing company or in an enterprise that has matured.

At OFS, the initial step for me was to acknowledge that balance was a value in my own life and worth the sacrifices I would have to make to implement this undertaking. Once I made a commitment that went beyond lip service, I set about structuring the various components of my life – work, family, and personal – into a framework through which I could consider the various commitments associated with each part and then set priorities.

In reality, of course, the work of my company had to get done; that was fundamental. However, by agreeing that, say, my niece's soccer game was also a necessary engagement for me to attend—because family is important—I could decide to fit the game around the project I needed to complete, even if I had to return to the office after the game to finish.

Of course, not all commitments can be honored. In other words, sometimes you have to give up something – but the something needn't always be family or personal.

Extending Balance

Having incorporated balance into my own life, the next step was for me to incorporate the philosophy into my company. At OFS, we always had set work hours, so I agreed to allow flexibility into the schedule.

A mother who needed to drop off a child at day care early in the morning, for example, could start—and end—her work day earlier than OFS's official hours. An employee training for a marathon could take time off in the middle of the day to run in the heat of the day and adjust the completion of certain projects accordingly.

Balance has also meant promoting activities outside of the office setting. Three years ago, OFS moved its headquarters to a building near a beach, a tennis club, and a health facility.

Though we needed to accept space with open, rather than individual, offices to get a price we could afford in that location, the tradeoff was worth it. To encourage healthy living, we are now able to allow our employees to go for walks at the beach during the lunch hour or before or after work. We engaged a personal trainer at the health facility with whom they can consult for individualized programs, and we initiated a practice of allowing staff to leave two hours early on Fridays during the summer.

In a related vein, we hold a summer beach party to which we invite our subcontractors and our professional support team of banker, attorney and insurance broker. It is a great way to get questions answered in a comfortable and non-threatening environment.

More With Less

The ability to bring balance into the lives of employees—and indeed, into the founder's life—at our entrepreneurial company has had a lot to do with technology.

At the heart of our tactical thinking is that these days it is possible to do more work in less time, thus freeing the excess for other spheres of life. One example has been the long-accepted process of our managers signing off individually on projects.

Utilizing our proprietary work-flow management and Supply Chain solution RequisitonNET that allows them to sign off simultaneously, we were able to shorten the cycle—and free up time. The solution was a matter of thinking creatively about old-fashioned processes that needed to be revisited and revised.

At OFS, we use computerized phone and Web conferencing to enable our people to attend equally to work and family commitments. Our chief technology officer was recently called to Hong Kong to care for his ailing father. We couldn't say no, you can't go. At the same time, we needed him to assist in the roll out of a major Supply Chain project for a key client. The solution: remote involvement. Thanks to Web conferencing, he was able to be physically at his father's side half a world away while managing the project for his employer.

In the decade that OFS has been living with the philosophy of balance, our company has thrived. Stress has been reduced and our staff is more effective, all of which enhances our ability to provide the utmost in quality service.

As for myself, I've come to realize that my time on this earth—indeed, my life—isn't the dress rehearsal. It's the real thing.

I work an average of 10 hours a day now, rather than the 18 I used to put in prior to my advisors' urging me to face the truth about myself. Work is no longer a continuous grind, but rather what it was always meant to be: a fulfilling aspect of a life that also includes family and self—indeed, even an entrepreneur's life.

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