Have you ever had a long—yet extremely productive—work session on a plane?
If so, you might have gotten off the plane and thought to yourself, “With no distractions, I got so much done!”
Jason Fried described this picture while being interviewed by Bo Burlingham at the Small Giants Summit this year in Detroit, Michigan.
Jason—co-founder and CEO of Basecamp—was sharing how you can run—and thrive—in what he refers to as a “calm company” rather than a company that plays the so-called hustle game. (And no, the question and answer session wasn’t about meditation as the solution to this problem, either.)
It might be helpful to know a bit more about Basecamp; Basecamp was founded in 1999 and started with just four people.
Today the company—known for many things including its support of remote working—has about 50 workers spread out across 32 cities, all around the world.
Basecamp is made up of designers, programmers, tinkerers, writers, speakers, bikers, engineers, runners, developers, chefs, analysts, campers, musicians, filmmakers, knitters, hikers, authors, photographers, pilots, race car drivers, readers, travelers, gardeners, volunteers, parents, and hard workers. Okay, you get the idea!
While opening up and talking about what works at Basecamp, Jason shared a lot of great insights and pieces of practical advice on running a modern company where workers can thrive.
Here are two key highlights from the session with Jason, although keep in mind this is only a glimpse of what he shared with the audience.
With a jam-packed, content-rich agenda, Jason’s interview was my favorite story and session from the Summit, in part because for so long I’ve admired his leadership, courage, vulnerability, honesty, and approach to business.
Practical lesson: You can design your company to be calm
Packed schedules. No time to rest, let alone think. 80-hour work weeks. Deadlines you can’t meet. Expectations you can’t hit. Targets that are impossible to meet. Constant chat, even when the workday is “over.” A boss breathing down your neck…
This is what you often hear when people describe their workday or the work environment they’ve grown accustomed to.
It doesn’t have to be that way, even though so many business leaders have come to think that’s normal or the only way to operate.
It doesn’t have to be crazy at work, or some variation of “crazy.”
“For most people it
is crazy at work—and we want to just be the complete opposite,” said Jason.
“So for us, ‘calm’ means, I’m figuring out what enough is, I’m just doing what
we need to do,” he said.
Part of that is about not being “chained” to your desk, or to the work, or to a chat channel.
It also means not rushing around all the time. “A lot of rushing is man-made…[But] there’s no reason to rush all the time,” he said. “We have these ideas that we need to be sprinting constantly. I just don’t understand that. So for us, it’s just about running at a sustainable pace,” he explained.
In practice, that includes:
- Not accepting chaos as the norm
- Reasonable work hours for everyone
- Leading by example when it comes to fair expectations of what can get accomplished
- If you can’t get something done, you’re able to do it the next morning (and make sure you give employees that choice)
- Actively removing distractions and protecting your time
- Very few meetings
- Benefits that allow people to work remotely and spend time out of the office. As stated on their website: “Our benefits are focused on getting people out of the office, not enticing them to stay longer. Fresh fruits and veggies are delivered to people’s houses, not the kitchen at work. Want to learn to play the guitar in your own time? We’ll gladly support you and pay for that too.”)
“Ultimately, it’s just about a sustainable business. We’ve been in business for 20 years and if we want to be in business another 20 years, we can’t be running around with our heads cut off all the time, which is unreasonable,” he said.
Practical lesson: Entrepreneurialism doesn’t have to mean you work at all hours of the day
Similar to the prior point, sometimes it’s about doing less. What works for Basecamp and Jason: hours and expectations that are reasonable and fair.
At Basecamp, each person puts in about 40 hours a week most of the year, and just 32-hour four-day weeks in the summer. “We send people on month-long sabbaticals every three years. We not only pay for people’s vacation time, but we pay for the actual vacation too.”
A key part of this is being careful with your time, one of your most valuable resources. Knowing just how sacred time is, Jason allows his team members to also approach and protect their time the same way.
“People will ask me, ‘Okay, you work 40 hours a week now, but what about when you first started the business?’ I say, ’Well, maybe I worked 50, but I didn’t work 80. I didn’t work 90, and I didn’t work a 100 [hours], because if I did, I’d still be doing that today.’”
If we form habits, both individually, and as a company, those habits are hard for us to break. So ask yourself: do you want to be working 70, 80, 90 hour work weeks? Do you want your people to do the same?
“The things we do over and over and over become habits. And so if you start off your business working 80 hour, or 90 hour weeks, that’s what you’re going to think it’s always going to take,” said Jason. “And it’s very hard to break those habits, so I’ve always tried to make sure that we work a reasonable amount of hours.”
If you do your best
work, and put in thoughtful or creative work for 8 hours, you would be and should
be tired at the end of those 8 hours. In other words, if you put in a quality 8
hours of work, why try to squeeze out 4 or 5 more? When will it ever be enough?
“The reason we’re working 12- or 14-hour days is because [people’s] days are so scattered, and so fragmented into tiny little bits, that they don’t actually have time to get work done,” argued Jason.
Again, what works at Basecamp is protecting each team member’s day, ensuring they have 8 hours to themselves to do optimal work without major interruptions. “When you give people 8 hours a day to themselves—which means, no mandatory meetings [which are] scheduled blocks of time that the company takes from you—people actually get a whole lot of stuff done,” explained Jason. By taking on less and reducing distractions, people can be more focused and more productive and the work is more sustainable.
Learn More About the Small Giants Community
Even if not all these practices sound like a fit for your company, do you strive to do things differently in your organization? Much like Jason, do you put your people before profits? If so, you may be interested in learning more about the Small Giants community.
On June 21, 2019, successful business owner, author and speaker Nick Sarillo—an active Small Giants community member—will be the next leader interviewed in our Small Giants Executive Breakfast Series at Cooper Creek on business culture, entrepreneurship, leadership and customer loyalty.
As the founder and CEO of Nick’s Pizza & Pub and The Trust & Track Institute, his businesses serve as a great example of how living your company’s purpose and values creates a world-class culture achieving award-winning customer service, higher margins and an engaged, productive workforce.
Nick’s Pizza is one of the top ten busiest independent pizza companies in per-store sales, and has margins nearly twice that of the average pizza restaurant. Stay up to date on the latest speakers and events by EO and Small Giants here.
Kim Sykes leads the eSign division at Edoc Service, Inc.