Basecamp didn’t have an employee handbook for over ten years. When new people were hired, they were largely left to figure out how the company worked on their own. Our new hires were tasked with maintaining, improving, and supporting Basecamp’s products without any context about how those products came about. Our interns admitted they didn’t know who at Basecamp did what job, so they had trouble all summer knowing who to ping with questions. And I’ll admit that I thought ‘judo’ meant something literally about fighting for an embarrassing length of time.
When we were a company of 20 people, the sink-or-swim format worked okay. But as we grew to more than 50 employees, we needed something more structured. So, last year we started putting together a handbook.
Basecampers are great at writing but not so great at documenting, so we constructed everything in the handbook from scratch on Github. We went back and forth clarifying some of our more nebulous values and policies, and I tried to effectively communicate just how much food we eat at meet-ups.
Until today we kept the handbook private, accessible to only current Basecamp employees. But why keep it to ourselves?! The handbook is most useful to our newly hired folks and interns before they start at Basecamp. In fact, our newest programmer Rosa said:
I had access to the employee handbook weeks before starting, and I loved that. I read it several times, not only because it was informative, but also because it made me feel super happy and excited about joining.
We want all of our new employees to have that experience! On top of that, we want to publicly share our values and policies in external publications and oh, hmm, this blog. Maybe other companies can crib some of our cooler policies. Maybe the way we clarify our company values can help someone else clarify their company or individual values. So we took publicity to the extreme and made the handbook viewable to everyone on Github. Making our handbook public reinforces Basecamp’s dedication to transparency, and it means that the entire internet can now point out my typos!
So please read, rip apart, steal from (with credit), compliment, and criticize our new handbook. It’s our eternal work in progress!