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Enjoying both work and child raising to the full Tackling a new way of working as a father

Vol.18 Enjoying both work and child raising to the full Tackling a new way of working as a father
Hiroaki Ebi | Sec.2, System Design Dept.1, Product Design Div.1, Digital Imaging Group, Imaging Products and Solutions Sector

Sony for robots!
That's why I decided to join the company!

My image of Sony is of a company that always thrills people and constantly takes up new challenges. That image has not changed since I was a child. It all started with the entertainment robots AIBO and QRIO. I was astounded when I first saw them, even though I was still a child. This got me interested in robots and biology, so that at university I studied creating an artificial brain on a computer that could think independently. So Sony naturally came to my mind as the only company where I might be able to create robots when I was job hunting. Above all, I love challenging and making "things" by hand to delight people. I was therefore strongly drawn to Sony, both for its entertainment side and for its willingness to take up challenges.

By the time I entered Sony, however, it had already terminated development for its entertainment robots. Since I wanted to work in areas that brought me a little closer to robot development, I expressed a wish to join a department that was involved in camera image processing. This was because I wanted to use what I learned for developing eyes for robots in the future. On my fourth year of the company, I proposed an idea of "area-specific noise reduction" (a function that adaptively reducing noise according to image area characteristics) and managed to bring it to fruition in the form of an image processing engine that is now installed in products such as the Sony α™ digital camera. At Sony, when you propose good ideas that are accepted, they leave more and more things up to you to handle. Moreover, I got a real sense that the corporate climate at Sony allows anyone to take up the challenges presented by new things. Today, I'm in charge of developing algorithms that are due to be incorporated into high-speed image processing engines and front-end LSIs which support faster AF and higher quality graphics. I find such work highly rewarding because it involves technological development relating to smartphones such as the Xperia™ as well as α cameras. However, there is no change in my wish to make robots and I look forward to working on their development sometime.

AIBO awakened my interest in robots
Ebi-san is now working on the
development of algorithms for
these front-end LSIs
Started "sleeping infant art" to enhance
family enjoyment of child rearing
Making time to be with the family every

Switched from night work to daytime work to
spend more time with my children

Every day was a struggle after joining the company because development for image processing technology was a totally different field than what I had studied at university. However, this gave me the opportunity to come into contact with Sony's most advanced technologies, and I spent my time absorbed in my work late into the night. Even after I got married and my first son was born, my life was completely work-centered. It was not until my second son was born that I had occasion to take a new look at my work-life balance. Since my wife's burden increased once there were two children in the family, I inevitably came to see that I needed to provide her with more support. Even more compelling, however, was the sense that my older son felt lonely. My wife had less time to spend with him because she had her hands full looking after our newly-born second son. I remembered that my father often played with me when I was in a similar situation as a child. I wanted to give my children the same kind of attention that my father gave to me. I also wanted to ensure that they were able to strive to reach their full potential in the future. I concluded that I wanted to participate more proactively in child rearing than I had been doing, and to spend more time together as a family.

I took to "sleeping infant art" when my second son was born so that the whole family could enjoy the child rearing process. Once a month, around the time of the "monthly birthday" of our daughter, our third child, I enjoy thinking up a theme, creating decorations, and taking photographs involving the whole family. And now that my older son has started showing interest in soccer, I enjoy practicing with him every morning. In this way, I have gradually changed my night owl lifestyle to a more daytime-centered lifestyle. More recently, I have adopted a "ten-minute learning session" every morning. For example, I spend ten precious minutes playing and studying with the children every morning -- drawing on Monday morning, practicing soccer on Tuesday morning, and so on. This morning time spent together has become essential for enabling me to work comfortably for the rest of the day. Spending time with the children in the morning helps me start work with peace of mind and concentrate. I now am better able to balance my life and use my time effectively, both at work and in my private life.

The University of California,
San Diego campus
Together with the family while
studying in the US

Enjoying both one's work and home life naturally.
That's the US work style

Another thing that completely changed my working style was a year spent studying in the United States. Using the company's study abroad scheme, I spent a year at the University of California San Diego campus researching CG and other new modes of visual expression, as well as cameras. I was with my wife and two sons. My professor and I often held teleconferences linking his home with the research lab because he was a very busy man. I was astonished to see his children running around in the background even though we were in the middle of a meeting. This would be inconceivable in Japan, but I learned that it was perfectly normal in the US for professors and students to hold discussions under such circumstances. During my stay, I also made friends with many other dads, and learned through them that there are various ways of taking greater care of the family, such as changing jobs to spend more family time, or creating workplaces close to the home in order to spend time on housework and child rearing. Ferrying the children to and from kindergarten is dad's job. There are many cases where dad picks up the kids during work, and even takes them back to the office when there is nobody at home.

In Japan, work times and locations are clearly separated from home life. But when I saw American dads and their involvement in bringing up the children, I began to harbor doubts as to whether it is really necessary to separate the two so completely. In the US, the concept of sacrificing family life for work simply does not exist. As it is simply natural to value and enjoy both work and family life, workplace colleagues understand the situation and it is possible to make flexible use of both time and location. Having experienced this approach to work in the US, I decided I would like to keep it up after returning to Japan.

Wednesday schedule

Leave the company between 3 and 4p.m.,
on Wednesdays.
Essenes for creating family time are cooperation
and understanding of my colleagues

Currently, I leave the company at 3 p.m. every Wednesday. My eldest son has qualified for FC Barcelona School Katsushika, so I take him there and pick him up each week. Initially, I really thought it would be difficult to leave that early. However, I wanted to put the work-life balance I had experienced in the US into practice in Japan and, above all, to respect the aspirations of my elder son, so I decided to talk things over with my senior manager. He willingly gave his permission, while my team leader said there should be no problems whatsoever so long as I did my best at work. Naturally, I didn't want to inconvenience any of my workplace colleagues, or sacrifice my work. The first thing I changed was the way I use my time. On Wednesdays I get to work by 07:30 a.m. and make sure to finish by 3:00 p.m.. During busy periods, there are inevitably times when I work during the time set aside for the children in the morning. The fact that I can work like this is thanks to the flex time scheme that Sony has adopted. It is extremely effective for people who wish to balance time spent on working and child rearing. Since it is also possible to telecommute sometimes, I can achieve this balance without cutting any corners or resorting to special measures.

I also make an effort to value in-company communications because there are times when I inconvenience the people around me in terms of scheduling because, for example, I cannot attend meetings after 15:00 on Wednesdays. When I cannot settle even minor matters by e-mail, I try to speak to people face-to-face whenever possible. I also work to break the ice and foster teamwork at departmental meetings, and create an atmosphere where we can all express our opinions with ease. Recently, the people around me seem to have come to completely accept this approach to work, so that on Wednesdays, some of them say, "Oh, this is the day you leave early," and make sure not to set up events after 15:00. I am well aware that this work-life balance is only possible because of the support of my superiors and colleagues.

Respect the individual, help as a team.
A better work-life balance is possible as Sony

When I returned from the US, I was reminded of the fact that while Sony respects individuals just like international companies do, it also has the organizational strengths typical of a Japanese company. Steadily delegating more and more work to individuals, and using teams to provide help when individuals cannot manage alone enables us to create good products. The fact that Sony can make good use of the balance between individual and team abilities is one of its key characteristics and a source of strength.

While it is desirable to be able to achieve a good work-life balance as a matter of course without being particularly aware of it, I believe this is difficult to do naturally unless there is an understanding environment. To create such an environment, someone must first take the initiative, and then those surrounding this person must accept such moves naturally. I was able to change working methods decisively, and I hope my actions will also provide the opportunity to change the environment. I believe Sony can do this so long as it respects individuals and teams cooperate together. I am extremely grateful to my bosses and colleagues, who accept my current work style so readily. I hope others will follow in my footsteps to create an environment in which well-balanced work-life styles are a matter of course.

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