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Strictly Business

May 6th 2021

by Henry Poydar

in Newsletter

Good morning,

In case you missed it, independent software company Basecamp created headlines last week by publicly announcing that they would no longer allow societal or political discussions at work over company communication channels.

They also announced they would end so-called “paternalistic” benefits (gym memberships, farmer’s market shares, and more) in favor of greater cash compensation for their employees.

And finally, they moved to consolidate decision-making by disbanding internal committees and their nascent DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiative.  Instead, the executive team will take on those responsibilities moving forward.

At first, these announcements generated some Twitter buzz on both sides of the decision. However, the story took a turn last Friday, when following a contentious all-hands meeting, a third of the company resigned, including longstanding key contributors.

Since then, the story blew up, garnering coverage from the New York Times and even an editorial piece from the Wall Street Journal. Basecamp is not backing down on the policy changes, but the founders seem contrite and genuinely disheartened by the outcome.

I’m not going to weigh in too heavily on this, but I will make two points:

1.) I’ve long admired Basecamp, its founders, its approach to company growth and product development. The philosophy behind the Ruby language and the Rails framework David created on top of it re-invigorated my passion for building applications and most certainly changed my life for the better.  Having something like this play out in public is painful. But no matter how you feel about their decisions, we all get to learn something because Jason and David operate so much of their business out in the open, even if it does suit their marketing strategy.

2.) I don’t think it’s possible to divorce the development of software products from the physical and mental well-being of the team. (Fred Wilson had a similar reaction.)  Emotional state plays a significant role in collaboration and productivity. And yes, emotional state is often connected to political and societal issues. Finding a way to have a productive dialog is much more complicated than forbidding it, but in my opinion, it’s the way forward for a healthy (in all senses) team.

Out of the box, Status Hero reports team member moods alongside check-ins. It’s one of the most popular features of the tool, and I believe that’s because good managers recognize that emotional state is impossible to ignore. Sure, it’s subjective and an imperfect measure, but it sends just enough signal to proactively spark healthy individual or group discussions when necessary, rather than have them blow up reactively.

It would be much easier to adopt the impersonal approach of Michael Corleone and declare that all of our interactions at work are only about the work. “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” But that doesn’t always work for high-performing teams. We’ll see how it goes at Basecamp.

Have a great weekend,

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