Opening the Rework Mailbag

We have another Mailbag episode, where Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson answer listener questions. In this installment, they tackle questions about workplace communication and remote working. Alison Green of Ask A Manager, whom we featured in our previous episode, gives her advice on a couple of questions too.

You can listen to previous Mailbag installments here and here. If you’d like a question answered on a future episode, leave us a voicemail at 708-628-7850 or email us at hello@rework.fm.

Ask A Manager


Last summer, my little corner of the Internet blew up with a post on Ask A Manager, a workplace advice column by Alison Green. The letter writer said that 10 years ago, he’d ghosted on his girlfriend of three years. While she was visiting her family, he moved out—not just of the home they shared together, but of the entire country—without so much as a Post-It note. And then, as karma would have it, he learned that his ex-girlfriend was about to become his new boss. Oof. Alison responded with her trademark thoughtfulness and honesty:

I don’t know that you can salvage this! It’s not reasonable to ask Sylvia to manage someone who she has this history with. You can try and see what her take on it is, but I’d be prepared to have to move on, whatever that might look like for you. I get that it’s going to be inconvenient — maybe even quite hard — but there may not be an alternative here.

I got hooked on Ask A Manager with this post, but I’m a relative latecomer to the party. Alison’s been dispensing workplace wisdom for a decade now and today she launches a new book that provides practical advice for how to talk to managers, employees, and coworkers about a huge range of topics, from asking for raises or promotions to handling awkward social situations at the office. On the latest episode of Rework, I interview Alison about how she became an advice columnist, how she’s cultivated a community of surprisingly nice commenters, memorable letters (like the ghosting ex), and more.

Life After Shark Tank

The ABC show Shark Tank is irresistible reality programming: Entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to a panel of famous investors and have the potential to make a life-changing deal. But as with any reality show, there’s much more to the Shark Tank experience than what gets shown on TV. In the new episode of the Rework podcast, we talk to three business owners about what it was really like to go on the program — and what happened afterward, when they had to get back to the very real work of building their companies.

This episode features:

Melissa Butler of The Lip Bar, a company that makes vegan and cruelty-free lipstick in vibrant shades that work on a broad range of skin tones. Watch a clip of their episode.

Chris Ruder of Spikeball, the maker of a game that’s a mix of volleyball and four square. Ruder played Spikeball as a child and later revived the brand after it had become obsolete.

Joe Moore of First Defense Nasal Screens, which patented an adhesive filter that sticks on top of the nostrils to prevent allergens from entering the body.


A friendly reminder that we are collecting your workplace communication questions for Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. If you’re seeking advice on how to talk to your boss, your employee, or a colleague, leave us a voicemail at (708) 628–7850 or email us at hello@rework.fm.

Please Don’t Like This

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bd8SCAAHyqd/

In the summer of 1962, the world-famous pianist Glenn Gould performed an all-Bach concert at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada. The second half of the program was devoted to The Art of Fugue, and Gould did something radical before he started playing the piece—he asked the audience not to applaud.

This wasn’t the first time Gould publicly expressed his discomfort with audience applause. Earlier that year, he published an essay in Musical America called “Let’s Ban Applause!” He argued that the best way to consume art was to internalize it and reflect on it in a quiet, deliberate way, instead of making a flashy public response in the moment.

In the essay, he jokingly proposed something he called the Gould Plan for the Abolition of Applause and Demonstrations of All Kinds, or GPAADAK. Under GPAADAK, applause would be allowed only at weekday family concerts, where “the performers, naturally, would be strictly second-team.” For the no-applause concerts, Gould suggested that solo pianists be conveyed offstage on a giant lazy Susan while still seated at the instrument, to prevent any awkwardness over having to walk off the stage in silence.

For Gould, who ultimately retired from concert life in 1964, audience applause was distasteful for a number of reasons: It evoked a gladiatorial vibe that was at odds with the reverence he felt the music deserved, and it didn’t give him any real feedback. I see this today with standing ovations—I can’t remember a single classical concert I’ve attended or performed in (I play violin in an amateur community symphony) where the audience didn’t automatically rise to their feet at the end. Surely not every performance deserves a standing ovation, yet concert-goers feel compelled to do it. I can see why Gould found the whole business kind of annoying and meaningless.

In the latest episode of Rework, we start with Gould as a way to frame a debate we’ve been having at Basecamp about the Applause feature in Basecamp 3. DHH wrote previously about the red flags that the feature started to raise for him and others at the company, and how we decided to kill the feature (internally) as we decide its ultimate fate. You’ll hear more from DHH, as well as iOS designer Tara Mann, in this episode, which covers the broader theme of seeking validation on social media.

Meetings are Toxic

Meetings are one of the worst kinds of workplace interruptions. They’re held too frequently, run too long, and involve more people than necessary. You may have gathered that we really dislike meetings at Basecamp. And many of you do too! This episode of Rework features:

  • A group of philosophy professors in a meeting they Kant seem to end. You might say it had…No Exit. One attendee, at least, found enough Hume-r in it to tell us about it.
  • A meeting about a meeting.
  • A dramatic reading about conference calls from hell.
  • Basecamp programmer Dan Kim talking about his post on recurring meetings and what you—yes, you!—can do to start changing the ingrained culture of meetings at your company.
  • A brief, pedantic aside to note the difference between garters and garter belts.
  • A cringeworthy meeting with an unwanted participant—and an unexpected outcome.

We had more listener-submitted meeting stories than we could feature in the episode, so here are a couple bonus ones!

No Work Done

I had an intense 12-hour meeting over two consecutive days. We were writing, correcting and estimating stories for a three-month project. Devs were in the room with managers, scrum master and biz owners.

So at the end of the second day, we finished the last story and we were supposed to groom and task it out next day (a third meeting day, yay). But our manager talked with us the next day and told us that some biz owners were mad about some unclear criteria in the stories, so he said that the (managers and biz) will regroup and this time “correctly rewrite all stories” and that we will have another 12-hour meeting next week.

That’s the story of how I had 24 hours of meetings in two weeks and NO WORK DONE (we couldn’t start working in the project until we had the second 12-hour meeting).

Quelle Horreur

I recently worked as a product manager for an Austrian company that was owned by a big French group. We were an IT service provider for two products, and in this meeting we were supposed to discuss payment providers for our new e-commerce offer.

The office and project language was English. My boss spoke English, French and German. I spoke English and German. Our French colleagues spoke French and English (with difficulties).

The meeting was a jour fixe (recurring) video conference scheduled for one hour, done over a big screen in HD. On our side, it was my boss and me. On their side, it was three project and product managers joined by a “payment expert” and an “SEO expert.” So that was seven people. Five minutes before the meeting, our CFO informed us that he would be joining shortly just to clarify “some budget things” with the department lead. So in total, we had nine people in the meeting: six on their side and three on ours. After the introduction round in English, the CFO and the department lead started to discuss budget details in French and that lasted for 40 minutes. Nine people in the meeting, two people talking to each other, and one of the nine (me) doesn’t understand a word that was said. Once they were done, they both left the meeting, so the rest of us had 20 minutes to discuss what we wanted to discuss.

I’ve read Rework and already had formed my opinion about Jour Fixes and working in meetings. I also complained often and openly about meetings I was invited to but had nothing to say and could have just read the minutes afterward. But this one was a special kind of meeting. It was almost like it was directed by Monty Python. I no longer work there 🙂


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Interruption is Not Collaboration

What’s happening?

Hey, are you busy? Can you listen to this real quick? It’s an episode about interruptions in the workplace. You’ll hear from academic researchers, Basecamp’s head data wrangler, and the CEO of a remote company about how they’ve tackled not just the disruptions themselves, but also the workplace culture that allows those intrusions to flourish.

Don’t Be Fake


Hey, are you crushing it? It seems like everyone is constantly crushing it in the business world. But maybe it would be better if we were honest about our flaws, talked like ourselves, and aimed to be genuine instead of super polished. In this episode of the Rework podcast: A Basecamp customer support representative shares tips on writing emails like a real human being; an inherently artificial industry gets a dose of reality; and two startup founders try an experiment in radical transparency to save their business. Stick around until the end for some poetry. Yes, poetry!

Start Making Something

Illustration by Mike Rohde

New year, new you! If you started 2018 with an idea for a product, business, or creative pursuit, now is the time to start making something. In this episode: A tabletop game designer finds that sometimes, all you need to get going is a pack of index cards and a pencil; a skincare blogger tries her hand at DIY and ends up with a cult hit; and a travel backpack company’s first attempt at making something goes comically awry.

Opening the Rework Mailbag, Part 2

In the second part of our Mailbag episode (check out the first part here), Jason Fried and DHH answer your questions about how non-managers can get support for Rework ideas within their companies; how Basecamp thinks about its employees’ mental health; what job-seeking developers should really be looking for when evaluating potential employers (hint: look beyond the ping pong tables and catered lunches); and why you should maybe just ignore most business advice. Hey, did we mention we have a business advice show? You should listen to it:

P.S. We’re collecting your stories about your funniest or definitely-not-funny-at-all meetings that you’ve had at work. Got a tale to tell? Leave us a voicemail at 708–628–7850 or email us at hello@rework.fm.

Opening the Rework Mailbag, Part 1

It’s our first mailbag episode! Jason Fried and DHH answer listener questions on topics like the role of luck and timing in starting Basecamp; how they approach pricing (spoiler: It’s something called “ass pricing”); hiring in the early stages of a business; and more.

We’ll have Part 2 with even more questions next week, so be sure to subscribe to Rework via Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, or your favorite podcatcher so you don’t miss it.

If you have a question for Jason or David to tackle on a future mailbag episode, leave us a message at 708–628–7850. We’re also collecting stories about meetings for a future episode. I heard from someone whose CEO held monthly 8-hour Skype meetings. Yes, they were eight hours long (with only two breaks under 20 minutes each) and consisted of him reading aloud some Google Docs. Do you have a similar story? Or—shudder—one that tops a recurring 8-hour Skype call? Call us or send an email to hello@rework.fm.