In a new blog post, Basecamp CEO Jason Fried apologized after the “policy changes” he announced last week eventually led to a third of the company’s workforce choosing to leave.
“Last week was awful. We started with policy changes that felt simple, reasonable and principled, and it blew things up culturally in ways we never expected, ”wrote Fried. “David and I own the consequences completely, and we’re sorry. We have a lot to learn and think about, and we will. “
The blog post that started the software company’s terrible week was one list of new company policies this prohibited, among other things, “social and political discussions” in internal forums.
Today’s social and political waters are particularly turbulent. Sensitivities are at 11 a.m., and any discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society in general quickly turns away from pleasant. You don’t have to wonder if staying out of it, you’re an accomplice, or if you’re wading in, means you’re a target. These are waters difficult enough to navigate in life, but significantly more so at work. It has become too much. It’s a big distraction. It consumes our energy and redirects our dialogue to dark places. It is not healthy, it has not served us well. And we are done with it on our company Basecamp account where the work takes place.
As The edge contributing editor Casey Newton later reported that the initial motivation for the letter stemmed from uncomfortable internal disagreements over a list of “funny names” of Basecamp customers. Some of the names on the list, which management was well aware of, were of Asian or African descent. Employees found their admission inappropriate at best and racist at worst.
The response to Fried’s first blog post was quick and immediate, followed a few days later by another post from company co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson, drawing up a severance payment for employees who were uncomfortable with the company’s new direction. “No hard feelings, no questions asked,” Hansson wrote. “For those who don’t see a future on Basecamp under this new direction, we will help them in every possible way to land elsewhere.”
But last Friday was an all-hands gathering, Newton reported, which apparently prompted some employees sitting on the fence to actually go into the severance package. Ryan Singer, Basecamp’s permanent head of strategy, questioned the existence of white supremacy at the company, much to the dismay of other employees. Singer, who worked at the company for 18 years, eventually resigned.
Fried’s post on Tuesday contained an apology, but it did not specifically refer to the tension that preceded it and did not mention the situation with Singer at all. It also doesn’t contain any specific changes that Basecamp plans have to make. For a company in the spotlight for a serious internal misstep, Fried’s post felt a bit like a placeholder until the promised third-party investigation takes place. Obviously, he and Basecamp had to somehow address the situation in public. He wrote that the company would “root” for the workers who left and apologized again for those who chose to stay:
Second, to our employees who stay with us, we know it’s hard to see colleagues leave, and we’re sorry we did that experience to you, but we really appreciate you staying with us. We have a great team and it was great and inspiring to see everyone helping each other, depending on each other, working where they could and supporting all of our customers. A deep, sincere thank you.
Fried’s latest post also seeks to reassure customers that Basecamp is still committed to supporting them. “Our technical operations and customer support teams continue to ensure that all of our products run smoothly, support requests are answered and new customer enrollment continues.”
Fried closes with a promise to “regroup, rebuild, and get back to making great software” – but again, he didn’t detail what that would look like. “We’ve been in the business for 22 years, through thick and thin,” he wrote. “We’ll do it to the end of the internet.”