Tech

Basecamp workers after company announces ‘no politics’ rule: Bye!

Reports suggest at least a third of the company has taken buyout offers today.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 22: Co-Founder and CEO of Basecamp and author of “It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work” Jason Fried attends The Wall Street Journal's "The Future of Everything Festival" at Spring Studios on May 22, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)
Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Basecamp has shed at least a third of its workforce in just one day, according to reports. Following an all-hands meeting described as “contentious,” a succession of employees today announced their decisions to resign from the enterprise software company, which came under fire after its CEO recently barred workers from discussing politics internally.

The company had roughly 57 employees at the end of 2020; more than twenty announced resignations on Friday, with potentially more to come.

Basecamp’s controversial decision comes not long after Coinbase made the same commitment to fostering an “apolitical” workplace culture. Employees there revolted too, and at least 60 accepted buyout offers.

Foot, meet mouth — Leaders at both companies have steadfastly defended their bans on political discussion in the workplace, saying that it leads to conflict and distraction. Larger companies like Google and Facebook know this all too well, as rising workplace activism has led to countless protests and even unionization drives over leadership’s decisions.

But clearly Basecamp CEO Jason Fried failed as a leader considering at least 30 percent of staff were willing to up and leave their jobs. Hiring skilled developers in today’s environment is incredibly challenging. Among others, Basecamp lost its head of design and reportedly all of its iOS developers, who built its recently launched HEY email client. Which is to say, Basecamp could be harmed irreparably by its decision to not listen to staff.

Coinbase made out much better, shedding only about 5 percent of its workforce.

An example of the many resignations pouring in from Basecamp employees. Twitter/@sstephenson

Privilege — This type of pushback is at odds with the Silicon Valley philosophy of deferring to founders for all important decisions. But awareness of tech’s influence over the world, and movements like Black Lives Matter, have empowered tech workers to push their companies to consider the potential harms they could be having on the world and do better. These companies espouse progressive values, and it’s no surprise that workers are holding them to it as the rest of the world becomes more skeptical of the tech industry.

By taking an apolitical stance, critics say that Basecamp and Coinbase actually are taking a political one. Hearing the concerns of underrepresented workers can make for better products, ones that serve more people. But leaders like Fried instead want to put their hands over their ears and work on building stuff they think is fun or cool, ignoring their blindspots and privileged positions.