2020 seems to be the year of remote work, with many offices closing in favor of remote work’s operational upsides or companies simply adopting the WFH method due to the pandemic. Basecamp, however, has been doing remote work way before it was cool – in fact, they’ve been doing it for the past 20 years. As far as remote companies go, Basecamp is considered one of the original blueprints. As a remote company ourselves, we have learned a lot from them as we work to incorporate their framework. Here’s some more background on Basecamp and pointers from them on how to succeed in establishing the remote work culture they helped found.
Basecamp was founded in 1999 by Jason Fried, Ernest Kim, and Carlos Segura in Chicago, IL. It began as a web design company called 37signals. Now, Basecamp provides an all-in-one project management software to help businesses work more efficiently. Hyperinbox and Basecamp run on the same concept – when things are all over the place, remote work can be challenging: Centralizing your internal communication, notifications, and tasks are essential. In 2013, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, Basecamp’s CEO and CTO wrote REMOTE, an extensive guide to working at home.
Real-time sometimes, asynchronous most of the time.
Asynchronous communication is one of the keys to making remote work actually work, and we have found that to be true at Hyperinbox. Asynchronous communication is when you do not all have to be present simultaneously and usually takes the form of task management tools, emails, and threaded communication. Asynchronous communication creates the foundation for many other helpful methods of tackling remote work, emphasizing long-form writing communication rather than traditional meetings and chats. A meeting over Zoom that lasts one hour and includes six people is not just an hour meeting but really takes up six hours of productivity. Think about how much time is lost to synchronous communication. According to Basecamp, “meetings are the last resort, not the first option.” Long-form asynchronous communication leads us to the second key pointer: documentation.
"Meetings are the last resort, not the first option."
– Basecamp team
Working asynchronously with an emphasis on long-form communication allows everything to be documented, which is essential for accountability, decision making, and monitoring progress. According to Basecamp, speaking in meetings benefits only those in the room. But writing helps everyone. This includes employees who may not have been able to make the meeting, those in the meeting who may have forgotten a point or two a week down the line, and future employees who may be facing a similar situation.
Further, documenting ideas and conversations leads to substantial decisions. One-liners that may come up in the moment are often not followed up on, as it is quick to move on to the next point or idea. Documenting all long-form communication leads to follow-ups and leads to the circulation of better ideas: Writing something out often leads to more thoughtful communication, which saves time.
Expect and respect the implications of asynchronous communication
While remote work is the most successful when using strategies such as asynchronous communication, there are some downsides and compromises you have to make.
First, Basecamp emphasizes that in remote environments, your co-workers can take your words in different ways. And sometimes, the words can be taken in the way that does the most harm and causes the most offense. It is essential to be cognizant of what you are documenting. Not only can the recipient not see you or your expression, but you can also not see their reaction either, which can create unseen tensions.
Second, asynchronous communication means asynchronous communication. Do not expect people to get back to you immediately unless it is a real emergency – being stuck to your phone when it does not suit your work schedule is one of the main problems remote work is trying to solve. It can become toxic if real time communication is overly emphasized in a remote environment, as you then never truly leave work.
Overall, there are many insights Basecamp has published, either in their book or on their website. If you are thinking about going remote, we highly recommend checking out Basecamp’s book and the other recommendations on our blog. We learned through gathering resources, but also diving in head first and seeing what works for us. One of the main issues we had was the lack of centralization for all of our notifications, which led to software and communication fatigue. So, we developed Hyperinbox. If you’re interested in learning more or signing up, please join our waitlist!