Our world. Our responsibility.

Technology is now involved in everything from getting you out of bed in the morning and informing you of news to managing your money and running the government.

The inevitable result is, if you’re one of the millions who work in tech, you’re not just affecting digits and cold hard machines but real people’s lives. At the smallest scale, this could be influencing the pleasantness of someone’s morning commute. On the largest scale, it could be steering the trajectory and success of an entire country or population.

Recent years have brought us many examples of how big tech firms have come to learn this fact. Most famously not through their successes, but their often embarrassing mishaps and disasters. From mass data breaches, exploding batteries, and political scandals, to youth nicotine epidemics, smartphone addiction, and Facebook, technology is no doubt impacting our world in many unanticipated, unwanted, and often, seemingly uncontrollable ways.

But as “the application of scientific knowledge to find answers and fix problems”, technology always comes with some level of risk. What it doesn’t have to come with, however, is the sense of determinism that makes it seem out of our control and therefore that we, as its creators and users, are somewhat powerless to correct and steer its course.

Technology is an incredible force that can shape our world for the better or worse. It’s therefore without question that looking after those who design and create that technology — including everything from the diversity of a team to each individual’s mental health — is fundamental if we want to bring about the kind of world we want to live in.

We strongly believe that we’re all part of one community that needs to look after each other, our planet, and our future. This is why, as a tech company that’s soon to be 25 years young, we have the following four principles baked-into our core values:

Diversity.

As technology has come to play an increasingly larger role in our lives, diversity in the tech industry has become an ever hotter and more controversial topic.

The fact is, most of the products we use on a daily basis were designed and built by white men — many with beards and smartwatches. The shocker is that most of us are not white men with beards and smartwatches. And so a lot of the time products can fail to reflect the reality of the diverse world we live in. Just look at how voice recognition initially didn’t respond to women because the designers who tested the products were male. Or how facial recognition technology is notoriously poor at recognising darker and female faces.

This skew toward white and male in the tech world was kept in the dark until earlier this decade, when diversity advocates succeeded in pressuring the nation’s tech giants to publicly share their employee diversity statistics. Many thought this would lead to a more diverse workforce, but the figures today are much the same and many tech companies now simply see diversity as another strategy for boosting their corporate image and spicing up their recruitment campaign.

A more diverse workforce leads to better products that can address more problems for a wider range of customers — such as those who are older, differently-abled, or from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. But most of all, a more diverse workforce means exactly that — a more diverse workforce. In other words, a more just and fair environment that offers equality of opportunity for all and isn’t tainted by discrimination.

For us, it’s a pleasure to be able to work with such a diverse bunch of folks. And as a bonus, the output we get is ever-better because of it. We hire and work with people regardless of gender, race, religion, perspective, neurodivergence, identity or expression, age, disability, veteran or military status, religion, political affiliation, and even — especially — location. We also support charities and the local community with programmes that include taking on disadvantaged students, unskilled interns and juniors, and the physically disabled.

Climate Crisis Aware.

Few sane people contest today that climate change is something is happening (I’m looking at you step-mom). But still many believe its effects are something we won’t have to worry about for at least another twenty, fifty, even a hundred years.

This initial consensus on the climate, that it is a distant prospect, has long been disproved. We now have conclusive proof that early predictions were wrong. And if that wasn’t enough, we now also have a paper co-signed by 11,000 scientists that warns of “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” and suggests that “to secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live.”

Despite the warnings and our efforts so far, The International Energy Agency reports that carbon emissions from the global energy industry reached a record high in 2018. This year’s heatwave melted some 40 billion tons of Greenland’s ice sheet. East Antarctic ice is melting at a faster rate than thought. And so as well as just warming, our sea levels are also rising, meaning more powerful storms, more die-offs of marine life, and a planet that is more and more sensitive to carbon dioxide emissions.

The worry over environmental issues and the future of our planet has led to a widespread outbreak of “eco-anxiety”, especially among young people. Faced with such reports and cries of impending doom, eco-anxiety can cause someone to disengage from the whole climate protest and movement, out of fear of where we’re heading and a sense of helplessness in mitigating the effects and avoiding catastrophe.

We take a different approach to climate change. Not by scaremongering or enforcing rules, but by setting an example and showing how each and every one of us can make an impact.

As a business, therefore, we take climate change and our carbon footprint very seriously. For many years now we’ve been striving to be 100% carbon neutral (including our entire supply chain). We also incentivise sustainable, emissions-free transport and over 90% of business miles are carried out on public infrastructure and electric/hybrid vehicles. We still have a big economic and social impact, just all whilst leaving as little trace as possible.

Community Support.

Technology is often heavily blamed for the millions of displaced workers we’re seeing and the millions more we’re yet to see in the coming decades. But technology can — and is — also playing a huge role in the reskilling of those workers and in closing the notorious and ever-growing skills gap.

While many are busy worrying that globalization, automation, and artificial intelligence will make them redundant, the digital economy is booming and in dire need of skilled workers. One report by LinkedIn estimates that by 2030, the global talent shortage could reach 85.2 million people — with 11 million unfilled jobs in the financial and business sector, and 4 million in the tech, media, and telecoms sector.

Despite this, there are about 170 million people (nearly half of the working-age population) without basic digital skills in Europe alone. It’s for this reason McKinsey predict that by 2020 as much as a quarter of the global workforce will need to significantly broaden their technological skills, particularly in skills like programming, agile working, and adaptability, to avoid displacement. Especially as many of the jobs of the future don’t even exist yet and so can’t be specifically trained for.

But the causes of the skills gap are complex and many — the failing education system, underinvestment in employee training, the changing dynamic between workers and machines. And so, if a solution is to come, it’s not going to come from the slow, clunky, and broken traditional systems, but from the very advancements and innovations that are causing all the disruption. In other words, technology.

In doing our bit to help reduce the skills gap, we regularly provide financial support to the WordPress community through our education programme, sponsorship, and think-tank involvement. As well as writing pieces like this to try and spread the word and encourage the introduction of systemic future skills training into the core curriculums of our schools and universities.

Mental Health.

We spend most hours of our lives at work, stressing about work, or stressing about work while at work. And yet, its relation to our mental health has long been ignored.

Now the connections between our work-obsessed culture and the burgeoning mental health crisis are too obvious and serious to ignore. Despite such luxuries as flexitime, corporate mindfulness programs, and free fruit and coffee, levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide are all rising. In adults under 50 in the UK, the leading cause of death is suicide. Coincidently, this section of the population just happens to make up the majority of the working population.

The solution of many business owners and managers to this problem is to make employees more resilient. To upgrade their operating systems to cope with the pressures of modern life. It could be the mindfulness program mentioned above or some other complimentary — often obligatory — wellness program, yoga class, or therapy session every week.

Rather than out of their employees’ best interests, this newfound caring side is often a reaction of the new science of stress and how everything from colds and headaches to fatigue and muscular-skeletal issues can cost companies thousands in days off, lost productivity, and extra recruitment.

Instead of taking a bandaid approach to chronic stress and work overload, we believe prevention is the best medicine. We recognise that the pressures of modern life represent a huge challenge to mental health. So we cap our working week at 25hrs, encourage lots of time off, employ flexible & output-based working practices, and always put our team and their families first.

Not to mention, even when it comes to such serious issues as diversity in tech, preventing the world from bursting into flames, and managing our busy and anxiety-ridden minds, we always make sure to never take ourselves too seriously. 

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Joseph Pennington is a freelance writer and long term traveller from the North of England. Connect with him on LinkedIn and find more articles on work, technology, mindfulness, and everything in between.