Workplaces from Underdog.io

Written by Toby Shorin

Today we’re launching Workplaces, a series of documentary profiles showcasing the cultures and values of companies from the Underdog.io network. Our goal with this editorial product is to encourage introspection about work and take a first step toward a healthier discourse of work and employment.

Assessment: The State of Hiring

We initially started this project because of the dissonance we felt between the state of culture and how job searching is treated in professional environments. Whenever we go on Twitter, we see lively public discourse about work, mental health, diversity, and technology criticism. We see passionate conversations in which people and groups clearly articulate their interests, needs, and values.

But we also see that employers and recruiters mostly stay out of these conversations. When it comes to job-search-focused content, too-brief articles with titles like “5 ways you’re screwing up your resume” are the norm. Recruiting companies regularly use concepts like “perfect fit” and the elusive “dream job,” which promise that when you love your job, work should not feel like work. Even employers themselves are over-reliant on presenting themselves through the lens of startup culture, or talking about how “passionate” people are. This type of language sets unhealthy expectations, and can contribute to feelings of insecurity — do I just not love my job enough?

The state of hiring brands, visualized

It seems to us that there is an opportunity for written content that doesn’t prey on job seekers’ insecurities. The goal of this content should be to help job seekers do what they are simply trying to do: find meaningful work.

As consumers, we already make purchase decisions on our own ethical criteria. We already expect brands to provide more than utility; we expect them to be active contributors to the issues we care about, including environmental issues, labor practices, advocacy for underrepresented groups, and political activism. What is increasingly clear is that most people expect the same from their jobs. At this time of widespread cultural and political volatility, it has never been more obvious that people want to practice their values through work. Understanding this cultural moment is the table stakes for being an employer today, yet rarely do we see businesses and potential employees having a dialogue about shared values.

In the near future, we expect to see more businesses, organizations, and individuals collaborating to solve problems around shared sets of values. But as individuals, discovering what’s meaningful to us and what we want to work towards is hard! While the internet allows people to easily dip their toes into different cultural spheres, finding spaces that facilitate growth takes time, introspection, and curiosity. Developing one’s own values is a tough but worthwhile process of self-discovery. Approached with curiosity and intent, work is one of the best ways to learn about oneself — much better than buying goods. Surrounding oneself with items that aesthetically represent one’s valuesis not the same as working collectively with others and taking action to build your preferred future.

What We’re Launching: Workplaces

Our new initiative is to create in-depth documentary profiles of companies we work with. That means (1) digging into domain complexities and specific challenges for these businesses, and (2) revealing the personalities and values of people who work there. Our profiles are not paid for by our customers, nor are they supported by advertisements.

Our first profiles are of:

  • Wonder — a hypercurious team working on research-as-a-service and the knowledge economy
  • The Infatuation — true food fanatics serving up authoritative, comprehensive reviews and city guides
  • Eden Health — a group of people coming up with holistic solutions to healthcare incentives (and playing some squash)

Each of these companies have cultures so different from one another, and values that plays out in a million different ways beyond the vertical and problem space: collaborative practices, how their spaces are laid out and decorated, the games they play, types of discussions people have, how stand-ups and meetings work, what people do in their spare time… the list goes on. These characteristics are difficult to find out even in the interview process, so we’ve tried to capture them in these pieces. Our intent is that readers will be able to get a genuine sense of how these companies feel to work at, and take away learnings for their own needs in a workplace.

For that reason, we suspect these profiles will be interesting not just to job seekers but people who are interested in business and culture in general, and to those who are interested in how values and culture are practiced in an organization; to current founders and future executives, recruiters and freelancers, brand managers, corporate ethnographers, and people entering the workforce for the first time. We’re determined to build long-term value for our readers, customers, and ourselves with this initiative. Workplaces should be a standing resource for people who are curious about ways of working. Instead of millennial-ish content marketing initiatives, we’d like to see more businesses focused on developing information resources with value that lasts beyond the hype cycle. (In fact, this initiative was developed under our product group.)

We hope readers will be able to learn more about what they want out of a company, its culture, and its problem space. And we hope companies will be challenged to reflect upon and design their own culture and rituals. Every single one of us is on our own journey of self-discovery and meaning. Yet the majority of our lives are spent “at work.” Our jobs can support our journeys, but only if we have a clear understanding of our values, and only if our workplaces share that and want to support us too.


Acknowledgements

In February or March I reached out to Kyle Chayka of Study Hall about this idea. He sent our writers’ brief to the Study Hall network, and soon we were contacted by dozens of talented journalists, four of whom we’ve worked with so far: Zoë Beery, Hilary George-Parkin, Rachel Sugar, and Kathleen Toohill.

We worked with multitalented creative Dana Kim (@softgradient) to translate our strategy into an editorial platform. She designed and built Workplaces on Gatsby.js and Prismic. Dana also took photos for our first three profiles, with additional photo support by Jimmy Young (@earthperson).

Lastly, we owe a large thanks to the first customers who trusted us to do justice to their teams and culture. It’s not easy to trust someone with your brand and we appreciate the openness and vulnerability you showed us. For our other customers who are seeing this initiative for the first time — we’re interested in working with you too (email chris@underdog.io).

Explore Workplaces: https://workplaces.underdog.io/