Book notes: It doesn't have to be crazy at work
"It doesn't have to be crazy at work" is a book written by the founders of 37Signals, makers of the Basecamp suite of collaboration software and creators of the Ruby on Rails framework (which is how I came to know them some 15 years ago). At the core, it talks about how you can achieve great business results while not burning your people or yourself to the ground.
In short, the book has some useful insights but at times feels to much like a marketing piece for Basecamp. Here are my top 3 takeaways:
- Meetings are the worst. Software is making it far too easy to fill up someone's calendar. For this reason, at Basecamp calendars are not shared, so that booking a meeting is intentionally difficult.
- They use "library rules", i.e. absolute silence, in their open office. This made me realize that in every place where I have been it has been the opposite, the open office is noisy by default and if you need quiet you go to the "quiet room". Why isn'it the other way around?
- Instant messaging kills concentration. You don't need to follow every single conversation. If it's important, you'll hear about it. Prefer JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
Everything goes back to the principle of "calm", even the business goals (which don't exist at Basecamp). It's OK to leave money on the table if getting that money would have meant crazy schedules or dubious customer value. For example, Basecamp doesn't go after big customers and charges the same to everybody, big or small. This allows them to treat every customer request with the same level of attention, without panic.
This all sounds great, but it seems to be applicable to the specific situation of this company, which has been profitable since day one and is privately owned. Try leaving money on the table when you are burning investor's cash.
After reading the book, I was curious to know how it really is to work at Basecamp and looked for reviews on Glassdoor but couldn't find anything conclusive. "Basecamp (IL)" has two reviews with a 2.6 average score, whereas 37 Signals has one 5-stars review.
Here are some other random bits of advice I picked up:
- No (financial) goals
- No bonuses - they feel like they are part of your salary
- you don't need to "beat the competition" - just have enough customers to make a profit, and see that number growing all the time. Market share is irrelevant
- business is not war
- 8 hours a day should be enough if you protect your time
- No status meetings
- The office has become a place of distraction. People need to go somewhere else to get work done, or get there early or stay late to be alone.
- JOMO (joy of missing out) vs FOMO (fear of missing out)
- There shouldn't be an expectation of immediate answer
- Nobody shares their status - are they in the office, at home on holidays... you'll find out if you need to
- To avoid constant interruptions, experts hold "visiting hours"
- No status meetings. It's the boss' job to know what people are doing
- Library rules for the open office