Massages at work: The Chorley office with a twist

Twice a month, a massage therapist travels to Buckshaw Village, just to the north of Chorley.

Monday, 17th June 2019, 9:09 am
Updated Monday, 17th June 2019, 10:09 am
The Magma Digital team.

They head to Magma Digital, comfortably as 21st century a workplace as you're likely to find this side of Silicon Valley, where staff at one of the country's leading software development companies get monthly massages paid for by the firm. Extolling the virtues of hiring smart people and getting out of their way, Magma prides itself on being the office of the future.

While around 5,000 miles separate San Francisco and the North West of England, the cutting edge mantras which embody modern day work are as obvious at Magma as they are in Palo Alto. In the business of innovating and developing software and technology, revelling in what millions consider the arcane and impenetrable world of coding, the company also invests in the crucial small extras.

Founded in 1999 by former NHS occupations therapists Jeremy (47) and Priscilla Coates (46), Magma recently celebrated its 20-year anniversary with a record year of growth and has been shortlisted as a finalist at the 2019 E3 Business Awards for the Employer of the Year award. Put bluntly, they're doing something right.

The staff at their offices in Buckshaw Village.

“We give people as much autonomy as possible and they respond to that," Jeremy said. “Smart people will do what they do, so let them get on with it. It’s an agile way of working: people decide what they’re doing and then work in small teams and help others."

Exclusively a technical agency, Magma doesn't get involved in the "fluffy" stuff like design. They're bona fide software experts, employing some of the sector's top professionals to design bespoke programmes for their clients. Having started life in a back bedroom in the '90s, the company now employs 16 people, and their reputation as specialists gives them an edge, according to Jeremy.

"We do a lot of project adoptions and rescues when things have gone wrong with code which we can improve on," he said. "A lot of engineers by default find themselves as the most senior person at a company when they’ve not got that much experience, whereas we’re always learning. Here, people learn new techniques and tools because we have people with greater experience constantly teaching them."

Himself still a coder after 20 years in the business, Jeremy practises what he preaches. A self-proclaimed believer in Lancashire's potential as a tech hub, he's keen on instilling in the next generation a passion for the skills and expertise necessary to allow them to fill the roles which will be created in years, decades, and generations to come. And at the forefront of that is letting his employees take ownership of their work.

Jeremy Coates (far left) founded the company in 1999.

"We have a half-hour rule: if between yourself, your little team, and Google you can’t solve a problem, then you need to widen it out to the team to draw on experience so we’re not burning client budget unnecessarily," said Jeremy. "That speaks to the ethos of the place. We’ve built a confident team: they’re not afraid and they know they’ve got backing.

"It has a true no-blame culture," Jeremy added. "IT has a reputation of macho-stuff with people pointing fingers, but we help each other and that bravado isn’t there. People are glad to learn."

Quoting the aphorism that if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, while if you teach him to fish, he feeds himself for life, Jeremy points to his and Priscilla's background in occupation therapy as being the key motivator behind their outlook.

"As Occupational Therapists in mental health, you’re helping people to be independent," he explained. “That sets the tone for how we approach everything at Magma and gives us confidence as managers to say ‘I don’t have all the answers, you decide’.

The Magma team on their away day.

"Them having autonomy and decision-making capability is exactly what our world-view is as therapists and being nominated for awards validates our approach."