In the digital age, consumers are increasingly aware that in pursuing business objectives, corporations have a wider responsibility to society and the environment. Companies, too, have long understood that the degree of their commitment to social responsibility has a tangible effect on consumer behaviour. By embracing CSR, corporations can align the business’s purpose and values with its environmental and social activities.
But in ensuring the company’s wider social and economic impact, the impact of unfettered technology use on the very staff that make up the core of the company is frequently overlooked. Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR) should also be integrated into or adopted separately alongside CSR programmes as the business, social and economic environments we occupy become increasingly digitised. The business case for CSR should be expanded along this fundamental trajectory.
The Importance of Corporate Social Responsibility
“CSR is a business approach that contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders” – Financial Times
In the late 80s, globalisation, 24 hour news and the Web brought the activities of global corporations to public attention for the first time. Media organisations, and human rights campaigners provided evidence of the use of sweatshops, toxic materials, and other questionable corporate practices. News of environmental disasters half a world away, caused by corporate malpractice, were suddenly broadcast directly into our homes. Consumers found they could protest with their feet and their wallets. The behaviour and values of corporations are as important as the quality of their product and services to consumers.
It is no longer a platitude to declare corporate support for society and the environment, but a strategic imperative that affects reputation, profits and talent retention.
Erica Keswin on the Future of Work
Introducing Corporate Digital Responsibility
Companies around the world have readily created their own versions of CSR with varying degrees of success. However, it is worth considering expanding the remit of CSR to address the impact of the digital tools and environments that businesses operate in.
We already know the various effects of constant connectivity on business revenue, productivity, health, wellbeing and creativity. Business leaders are increasingly comfortable with the idea that creating high-quality, impactful digital content is essential for long-term success.
A Digitally Responsible company understands that employees can not be constantly connected and respond to communications at any hour, it designs its digitised environment in a way that does not hijack workers’ attention. A digitally responsible company designs the workplace to limit information overload and other negative effects that come from overexposure to digital information.
A business has digital responsibility both internally and externally.
CDR and the Workplace
Perhaps the most under-examined area, Corporate Digital Responsibility has the potential to improve the lives of information workers around the world. We have written about the growing evidence of the impact of unfettered technology use, and how technologies are designed in ways that modify behaviours that are not conducive to a good work life. All these can negatively impact key business metrics such as productivity, employee development, health and profits. A digitally responsible company recognises the various effects of technology on its staff and have developed a responsive and robust digital and technological strategy that supports information workers in getting the most from their days.
Information on the effect of technology on the physical environment is more forthcoming, and is linked to numerous environmental indices that dovetail with CSR reports. For example, data centres are the engines around which information moves and are stored. Much has been written about the environmental impact of data centres, and their development are monitored by NGOS such as Greenpeace, and some of the biggest companies in the world are making serious moves to lessen the environmental impact of data centres.
The Corporate Digital Responsibility Professional
Companies are becoming increasingly aware that they have to be aware of the quality of their digital footprint. In the same way that CSR has a real impact on the bottom line and wellbeing of the employees, so too will CDR meaningfully impact the reputation of the company, the quality of its relationships with customers and the quality of life of its employees. It is not impossible to imagine that new positions within companies of Chief Corporate Digital Responsibility, for example, will exist sooner rather than later.
An excellent CDR executive would possess a skillset that few people, at the moment, have such as strategic business awareness, Cyberpsychology, Human Computer Interaction, and Cyberanthropology, and more will be essential.
Integrating digital responsibility into the DNA of companies will, in the future ensure the continued success of businesses and workers navigating the changing digital landscape. It will take the input of experts and business leaders to visualise what the successful digitally responsible company of the future will look like.