Innovation Hub: Jason Fried on the End of the Workplace

5/2/14Follow @IHubRadio

Jason Fried wants us to forget about meetings, stop talking to our managers, and avoid coming into the office. Mostly.

Fried, the co-founder and CEO of the software company Basecamp, believes many workplaces are dysfunctional and should be reinvented. Why? And what’s Fried’s vision of the new office? I sat down to talk with him about it.

Basecamp (formerly known as 37Signals) is the maker of a popular project management tool. The company was founded in 1999 and is based in Chicago.

The following interview has been edited and condensed. (To hear the full interview, visit www.innovationhub.org.)

Kara Miller: OK, so take us to the offices of Basecamp. If someone from an old-school company showed up, what would surprise them?

Jason Fried: Our office is really quiet, so it’s almost like a library. So most of our communication, even if we’re sitting next to each other, is done through online collaboration tools and communication tools.

KM: Is that purposeful? You don’t want somebody to lean over and say: “Hey, Joe!”

JF: That’s right because that’s an interruption. And interruptions break your concentration and break your focus and take you out of the zone.

KM: You’ve said that some of the worst things about how workplaces as they’re currently structured are M&Ms. And I’m guessing that’s not the candy, because that would be fantastic if there were more M&Ms at my workplace.

JF: Yes, I agree with that. [Laughs.] M&Ms are meetings and managers—and, by the way, I’m a manager, so I’m guilty of this too. A lot of workplaces are dominated by people looking over people’s shoulders too often, micromanaging, getting in the way. And there are lots of meetings during the day when people are pulled into rooms, their day is broken into pieces smaller and smaller pieces. For people in creative fields—designers, programmers, writers—those people need stretches of uninterrupted time to really get things done.

KM: You advocate remote work. I can imagine bosses saying: that’s not going to work for us. I won’t be able to have good oversight of what you’re doing.

JF: If you think the only way to figure out if someone’s working is by watching them work, you’re probably not managing properly. You need to look at the work itself. Sitting at a desk all day and punching away on your computer does not mean you’re working.

Kara Miller is the host of “Innovation Hub,” a national radio program that features the thinkers, researchers, and visionaries who are crafting the future. She is based at WGBH Radio in Boston. Follow @IHubRadio

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  • Christopher Noble

    Jason sounds like someone with a very narrow experience of collaborative work environments. Too bad he has not experienced the positive power of conversation and mentorship, and thinks only in terms of written messages and “managing”.

  • elt38

    Basecamp must be populated by lone geniuses that need to be “in the zone” so they can crank code all day long. I shudder to imagine what their code base looks like.
    I’ve found that putting two to five engineers in the same room will increase the intelligence of each one of them by at least 50%, and their productivity by 100%. Each one triggers new ideas in the others, and unproductive paths don’t get followed. There is no videoconferencing system good enough to replace this, not yet. Great products are not created by lone geniuses.