Tuesday, May 4, 2021

A Software Company Comes Up With a Brilliant Corporate Speech Policy


Basecamp is remote work software that provides a single online environment in which workers on a single project can consolidate everything they do on that project.  No matter where you are, there’s a virtual meeting space in cyberspace.  That’s pretty cool.  What’s really cool about Basecamp, though, is its CEO’s new rule: people may not discuss politics at work.  With that single announcement, a third of the workforce quit.  Other American corporations should follow suit.

After “a contentious all-hands meeting,” the Basecamp CEO and one of its founders, Jason Fried, posted a lengthy statement online detailing the new policies that he and David Hansson, a Basecamp founder and partner, had reached.  (Note: As a private corporation, Basecamp can impose speech policies on its employees.)  Here are the core parts (and except for the first sentence, bolded emphasis is mine):

1. No more societal and political discussions on our company Basecamp account. Today’s social and political waters are especially choppy. Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasantYou shouldn’t have to wonder if staying out of it means you’re complicit, or wading into it means you’re a target. These are difficult enough waters to navigate in life, but significantly more so at work. It’s become too much. It’s a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places. It’s not healthy, it hasn’t served us well. And we’re done with it on our company Basecamp account where the work happens. People can take the conversations with willing co-workers to Signal, Whatsapp, or even a personal Basecamp account, but it can’t happen where the work happens anymore. Update: David has shared some more details and more of the internal announcement on his HEY World blog.

(I urge you to read David’s blog post, because it’s an excellent statement about how free speech should work in America.)

In addition to banning political talk in the workplace or over the workplace communication system, the company is turning away from the Silicon Valley trend of turning every workplace into an amusement park for overgrown children (except for the first sentence, bolded emphasis is mine):7_201_9.gif

2. No more paternalistic benefits. 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. By providing funds for certain things, we’re getting too deep into nudging people’s personal, individual choices. So we’ve ended these benefits, and, as compensation, paid every employee the full cash value of the benefits for this year. In addition, we recently introduced a 10% profit sharing plan to provide direct compensation that people can spend on whatever they’d like, privately, without company involvement or judgement.

Lastly, in the sixth numbered item, Fried reminds the employees that Basecamp’s purpose is to 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.”  As far as Basecamp leadership is concerned, “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.”

There are three other changes, but they’re very work-related, so they’re not relevant to this post.

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