Nurturing company culture
can be elusive, so we’re taking
steps to build it every day
mother’s house for dinner. It’s a chance for every-
one to open up a little bit about themselves on
a regular basis. It helps frame everyone as people,
not just as co-workers.
Another prompt that’s become popular is
Basecamp’s monthly question: “What books are
you reading?” Again, it might seem random or
irrelevant, but the answers reveal our employees’
interests on a deeper level. People across the company who may not seem to have much in common
or who don’t interact that frequently may fnd
themselves enjoying the same book, author, poet,
or subject matter. (For the record, the last book I
read was Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage,
which I highly recommend.)
One less conventional thing we started doing
is what we call the “5x12.” Once a month—usually
on the frst Wednesday—fve random people from
across the company are chosen to participate in an
impromptu one-hour video hangout with me and
David Heinemeier Hansson, my co-founder. Andrea
LaRowe, our ofce manager, also sits in to transcribe the conversation.
Here’s how it works: A few minutes before
it’s go time, you get a ping in Basecamp 3 with
a link to a Google Hangout. You don’t know
who else will be on the call until you click the
link and show up.
The rules are simple: No work talk. Anything
else goes. This is all about creating a social situa-
tion that likely wouldn’t happen otherwise. Five
people—some new to the company, some vets, all from diferent departments—get to gab.
An hour to see one another’s faces and workspaces (in the background) and shoot the breeze.
Topics are varied and often surprising. During the past few 5x12s, we’ve discussed wind
farms, if Fiji water is on tap in Fiji, $1,000 Japanese toilets (totally worth it), some guy
who hooked 54 drones to a lawn chair so he could hover around his yard, tractor restoration,
tiny planes, if water is what really makes New York bagels taste so good, how great bread
is deceptively hard to make, and the odds of whether paying parking tickets is less expensive
than always paying the meter.
By the end of a call, we all know one another a little better. People who never work together
suddenly have a shared moment. When the call is over, the transcript is posted in Basecamp for
everyone to see. Even if you weren’t on the call, you can read Andrea’s colorful write-up and
feel like you were there. It may not be the same as happy hour at the local watering hole, but all
of these little moments do add up to something bigger—our culture.
COMPANY CULTURE changes as the people who make up an organization change. Add some, lose some, and the culture shifts. As it should. Part of my job is to lace my company’s culture with prompts that remain constant as the people change. As companies grow beyond their initially intimate size, when everyone knows everyone’s kids’ names, a culture becomes more difcult to get your arms around. At Basecamp, we’re remote— about 50 people spread across 30 cities around the world—which means creating
a sense of shared experience is even more critical and difcult.
Over the past few years, I’ve been tinkering with ways to inject
culture-building moments into Basecamp. For example, every
Monday morning, Basecamp (the product) automatically asks every-
one in the company, “What did you do this weekend?” People share
pictures of home renovations they’re working on, or a hayride with
Jason Fried is a co-founder
of Basecamp (formerly
37signals), a Chicago-based
INNOVATE 92 - INC. - FEBRUARY 2017