Basecamp CEO on banning political talk at work and a 4-day workweek


  • Jason Fried is CEO of the project-management-software company Basecamp and a coauthor of «Rework.»
  • Fried explained why he didn’t think conversations on social issues should happen at work.
  • He also shared lessons he learned about having a four-day workweek during the summer.
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Jason Fried, a cofounder and the CEO of the project-management-software company Basecamp, has built a following for his ideas on leadership.

Over the years, he’s written multiple books on the topic, including the entrepreneurial-focused bestseller «Rework,» the remote-work and culture exploration «Remote,» and the efficiency manifesto «It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work

Because of this, the leadership decisions the tech CEO makes at Basecamp are buzzworthy. In April 2021, Fried announced Basecamp would not make public comments on social issues and barred employees from speaking out about them in company forums.

Within hours of Fried’s post, multiple employees announced on Twitter they were leaving the company. At least 20 people, more than one-third of Basecamp’s roughly 60 employees at the time, stated their intention to accept severance packages from the company. Business consultants specializing in diversity, equity, and inclusion issued harsh words of criticism. Despite growing research and CEO commentary on the importance of business leaders taking stands on social issues, Fried disagrees. Small companies like his have no play in politics, he said.

Fried has also made headlines for extolling the benefits of his policy of a four-day workweek in the summer, when employees work 32 hours a week. The company adopted the policy in 2008, which was well ahead of the current wave of companies considering similar policies. 

Insider asked Fried, 48, about his leadership style, specifically the controversial decision on social issues and his summer four-day-workweek policy. The conversation provided insight into how Fried thinks about the role of business in society.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.    

Tell me about how your leadership style has evolved since 1999, when you cofounded Basecamp. How would you describe yourself as a leader now?

We were four people. Now we have 65. So my style has changed with the size of the company. I used to be a lot more hands-on with a lot of the things we were doing, and I’m a lot more hands-off today. I’m a little more strategic, less day-to-day in the weeds.

I’ve tried to get more hands-off and let other people make more decisions around the work that’s being done in different departments. I have enjoyed letting things unfold a bit more than perhaps in the past when I was a little bit more — «controlling» isn’t the right word — a bit more, like, deliberate about every decision.

What’s been the challenge with becoming more hands-off? And what’s the benefit of that adjustment?

I think you have to become more hands-off. You don’t really have a choice. Otherwise, you become a micromanager, annoying, and also bad because you can’t possibly stay on top of — or stay even in the loop on — 50 or more decisions a day. I think you make the company worse if you try to run a 60-person company like you did a 10-person company or 20-person company.

You have to champion other people and let them make decisions. And you have to stay more focused on the big-picture direction of the company. 

On the company’s summer 32-hour workweek:

You instituted a summer four-day workweek in 2008. What was the impetus for that? 

One of the things that we do at Basecamp is experiment. We see our company as a product, and just like products iterate, companies should be iterating. So we thought, «What would it be like if we squeezed out eight hours of those 40 hours per week and went down to 32? What would happen?»  

Why not make it permanent year-round?

We made it seasonal because something that’s interesting about life is that when you’re growing up, you have seasons: You go to school, and then you have summer break, then you get back to school in the fall. In the corporate world, though, when you grow up, it’s all the same all of the time. We wanted to kind of experiment with what seasons would feel like at the company. 

It’s worked out really well, so we’re continuing to do it. We get a little bit less done with fewer hours, but it’s fine. And it’s worth it because our aim is not to do as much as we possibly can, it’s to do as much as we can sustain over the long term.

We want to treat the four-day workweek as special. What we found is that people just enjoy it more when it’s a special thing. It starts, and it ends. And by the end of the summer, people are looking forward to getting back, especially in the Northern hemisphere, where it gets dark earlier as winter approaches.

What’s one bad thing that’s resulted from implementing the four-day workweek?

It’s not actually bad, but you have to curb your ambition a bit, like, you just can’t get as much stuff done and that’s it. You have to come to terms with that. So it’s bad on paper, but it’s also just fine because it’s a shift.

You may take on something that’s less ambitious during the summer, but the good thing, again, is people enjoy it. People come back more rested on Monday. They feel better about themselves.

Have you measured the success of the four-day workweek? 

We don’t have data. It just feels like the right thing to do, and we can afford to do it. It’s pretty obvious from employee feedback that it’s been a good thing.

On Fried’s no-political-talk rule:

You banned employees from talking about politics and social issues at work in 2021, and there was fallout. Can CEOs ban certain workplace conversations but also support the whole employee at the same time?

Sure. Well, «ban» is such a strong word. It has these implications of authoritarian stuff. Basically, we said, «We’re not talking politics in the middle of work. If you want to have conversations about this stuff with your coworkers, you’re free to do that, but we’re not mixing that in with work.» Just like we wouldn’t mix discussions a

Fuente: PMideas (Basecamp CEO on banning political talk at work and a 4-day workweek).