Experience design studio
Wonderland
Opinion

Looming fatherhoods influence on Wonderland

As I write this, I'm less than two weeks away from becoming a first-time-father, and every day brings with it a nervous excitement that I've never felt before.

By Martijn van der Does Managing Director

As I write this, I'm less than two weeks away from becoming a first-time-father, and every day brings with it a nervous excitement that I've never felt before. There's no surprise or unexpected arrival; quite the contrary. The last nine months have been a flurry of labour courses and baby books, stroller hunting and cot shopping. But no matter how hard I try to be prepared, I can't fight this niggling feeling that something unexpected will happen. That we haven't covered every base. It is after all completely new to me.

Unsurprisingly, it's not unlike the feelings I experienced when I first started Wonderland. Granted, they're concerns of a very different matter, but the feeling is the same: an odd combination of overwhelming nervous excitement and gut-wrenching apprehension. As the birth-day draws nearer, I wanted to pause and take a moment to share my thoughts on how looming fatherhood has changed my approach to entrepreneurship and running Wonderland, and what it means for the future.

Wonderland

My time prioritisation needs to change

It's easy to imagine investing hour upon hour in my son when he's born, watching him grow, listening for his first word, and watching eagerly for his first steps, and in a strange way it brings a feeling of nostalgia. As a business owner, it's extremely easy to sink hours and days into your business, especially in the early years. So much of my time, energy, focus, and love has gone into turning Wonderland into what it is today, and transforming it from a few people working in a converted garage to a phenomenal international team in a brand new office on the Vinkenstraat. But with this feeling is also is also the awareness that a time will come where I need to step back and prepare for Wonderland's next phase. I know that as my son grows I will need to encourage as much as show, and force myself to take a step back and let him discover the world around him, and himself, just as I've done at Wonderland in recent months. 

Increasingly I've shifted my focus away from clients and projects, prioritising instead our culture and people. I trust my team to get the jobs done without my input, for our designers to deliver unparalleled work, and for our developers to bring it to life in new and intriguing ways. I don't need to be as involved as I used to be, and as a result I now have time to focus my attention on the business itself, and the culture we want to foster. 

I've always been a big believer of not forcing a fit and giving roles to people who aren't wholly motivated by it. Instead, I search for people who can make the job their own, and define it how they see fit. I've prioritised freedom and flexibility instead of rigid job descriptions and KPIs, and as a result Wonderland has flourished. Now, I'm working to formalise this approach, and further define our culture to ensure that the team we've built remain engaged and motivated.

I have more mental clarity for the future of Wonderland

Finding out I was going to be a father forced me to take a step back. I needed to create a reality where my teams could manage without me. It was hard at first, having given so much time and energy to building Wonderland, but in doing this I've bought myself time to prepare for the future - both personal and professional - and begin to think about what's next for Wonderland. Already, the leadership team is increasingly managing their workloads without input from me, instead using me as a sounding board for advice and support, rather than as a manager to get sign off from. As this decoupling continues, I'm increasingly focusing on the next phase for the company, both in terms of growing and developing our teams and culture, and also the growth we hope to achieve through to 2025.

Wonderland

Excitement

Aside from everything else, I'm just excited. I'm not very good at sitting still; in fact I'm useless at it, and I'm excited for the challenges and lessons that adding a paternal persona to myself will bring, and what it will teach me. I'm excited to see what juggling a baby and business will be like, how my approach to management will change, and how the company culture will benefit from these shifts. Family is already a core value for Wonderland, and I already empower my team to take time off wherever possible to spend time with visiting relatives; especially when family can come from as far afield as New Zealand and South Korea. Now, I'm interested to see how these values evolve further as I shift from son to father; child to parent. 

Parental leave policy

At this moment, Wonderland has no additional parental leave policies, simply because no one has ever left to have a child before. Realising this, I'm treating my own paternity leave as the basis from which to build and write our policy. In the Netherlands, fathers are entitled to five weeks *vaderschapsverlof* - paternity leave - for which the government will pay 70% of the regular pay. This can be increased to 100% if a company is willing to supplement it. It also doesn't need to be taken immediately after the baby is born, and can instead be used anytime within the first 6 months. What we add on top of this, and how it develops is another exciting question to answer. I don't yet know what we'll offer, but I'm going to use my own time away as the experiment to build from. Until then, wish me luck and watch this space; you'll know all in a few months time 😉.

I don't know what the future will hold; it's impossible to know: I've never done this before. But I do know that it's already adjusted my views towards Wonderland, and my team. In the mean time, keep an eye on HUMAN, and we'll let you know what other changes appear in the coming months.

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