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Software Firm Rejects Woke Workplace, Saying ‘We Are Not A Social Impact Company’

Basecamp is an expert in cultivating well-running workplaces, selling software for efficient project management and publishing prescient books on creating "calm" and effective corporate cultures.
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Basecamp, a firm known for cultivating efficient and positive professional environments, made an announcement Monday that was more notable for the fact that, in 2021, it needed to be said: The project-management software company declared that it was a company focused on developing project management software, not an entity that should try to shape Americans’ political opinions, engineer its employees’ personal lives, or take positions on unrelated public debates.

The company’s co-founders laid out their refined vision for the company, including cutting ties with things it has done in the past. The changes reject the mission creep that has increasingly overtaken large companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, and return to the product-focused ethos that fueled the company when they founded it in 2004. They are:

1. No more societal and political discussions in the workplace during company time, on company communications channels.

“It’s a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places,” CEO Jason Fried wrote.

Co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson, the company’s chief technology officer and creator of the populator web development framework Ruby on Rails, elaborated:

Basecamp should be a place where employees can come to work with colleagues of all backgrounds and political convictions without having to deal with heavy political or societal debates unconnected to that work.

You shouldn’t have to wonder if staying out of it means you’re complicit, or stepping into it means you’re a target. That is difficult enough outside of work, but almost impossible at work.

By trying to have the debates around such incredibly sensitive societal politics inside the company, we’re setting ourselves up for strife, with little chance of actually changing anyone’s mind.

We also like to tell ourselves that having these discussions with the whole company is “healthy”. I used to think that too, but I no longer do. I think it’s become ever more stressful, unnerving, and counterproductive. …

Next, Basecamp, as a company, is no longer going to weigh-in publicly on societal political affairs, outside those that directly connect to the business.

2. No more paternalistic benefits. 

The second change involves the company’s role in encouraging or discouraging various activities in employees’ personal lives through ancillary job benefits. Instead, Basecamp will try a different approach: using those funds to pay its employees money that they can spend as they choose. Fried wrote:

For years we’ve offered a fitness benefit, a wellness allowance, a farmer’s market share, and continuing education allowances. They felt good at the time, but we’ve had a change of heart. It’s none of our business what you do outside of work, and it’s not Basecamp’s place to encourage certain behaviors — regardless of good intention.

Other changes involve freeing the company to fulfill its mission by cutting down bureaucracy, ceasing involving numerous people as “stakeholders,” and not fixating on negatives.

3. No more committees.
4. No more lingering or dwelling on past decisions.
5. No more 360 reviews.

All of the changes serve the final, simple edict:

6. No forgetting what we do here.

We make project management, team communication, and email software. We are not a social impact company. Our impact is contained to what we do and how we do it.

We don’t have to solve deep social problems, chime in publicly whenever the world requests our opinion on the major issues of the day, or get behind one movement or another with time or treasure. These are all important topics, but they’re not our topics at work — they’re not what we collectively do here.

When employees are at work at Basecamp, their full attention should be focused on one thing: building the best possible tools that customers want, Fried wrote.

The company has expertise in helping organizations run smoothly. Its flagship project management product, also called Basecamp, is designed to help workers keep organized, create to-do lists, and track progress on projects, but without too much overhead or clutter.

In 2013, Fried and Hansson published a book called “Rework,” positing that much of what corporate culture does is wrong. Instead of conducting incessant analyses, filling out paperwork, and holding meetings, a small, dedicated team should focus on building great products. The rest will fall into place.

In 2013, they published a book — which proved prescient — titled “Remote: Office Not Required,” detailing its success with allowing employees to work from home

In 2018, they published “It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work,” which laid out their focus on creating what they call “the calm company,” as opposed to overworked, negative, stress-inducing workspaces.

That, too, proved prescient, as companies have increasingly found themselves fending off acrimony from all sides after indulging a small minority of employees who insist on using workplaces as a forum for hashing out outside personal and political issues. They often find that such activists can never be satisfied, and by attempting to satisfy them, their demands only grow — even as the company moves ever further from its actual mission.

Here are some examples from the last week alone:

  • A Conde Nast cookbook publication said it will no longer publish recipes involving beef — presumably severely diminishing its pool of content — after some Democrats highlighted the environmental impact of cows.
  • Software behemoth Oracle — which is considering a major investment in Tennessee, where it will enjoy a favorable tax environment — has some thoughts on the finer points of high school athletic competitions involving transgender minors, seemingly targeting that state. In response, Governor Bill Lee (R) reminded: “Organizations have opportunities to weigh in on the legislative process but ultimately, Tennesseans, through their elected representatives, determine the law in our state.”
  • Bicycle company Peloton laid out a style guide parsing the origins of colloquialisms, deeming the phrase “grandfathered in” racist.
  • Employees of book giant Simon & Schuster demanded that the publishing company not publish books, at least those written by anyone connected to Donald Trump. Publishing former Vice President Mike Pence, they wrote, “puts all of our BIPOC, women, LGBTQ+, disabled, neurodivergent, immigrant, working-class employees, and the greater bookseller/reviewer/reading community in immediate and long term danger.” The ratcheted-up demands came only a week after CEO Jonathan Karp gave in to an earlier pressure campaign from employees by refusing to distribute a book by an embattled police officer.

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