We’ve been teaching people how to do remote work well for the better part of two decades. We wrote a whole book about the topic in 2013, called REMOTE: Office Not Required. Basecamp has been a remote company since day one, and our software is sold as an all-in-one toolkit for remote work. Yeah, we’re big on remote work!
So now that COVID-19 has forced a lot of companies to move to remote work, it’s doubly important that we do our part to help those new to the practice settle in. We’ve been hosting a variety of online seminars, done podcasts, and been advocating for healthy ways to do remote right.
Unfortunately, the move to remote work has also turbo-charged interest in employee surveillance software. Drew Harwell’s harrowing report for The Washington Post should make anyone’s skin crawl, but it seems some managers are reading about these disgusting tools and thinking “oh, what a great idea, where can I buy?”.
And as fate would have it, some of those managers would then visit these employee surveillance vendors and see a Basecamp logo! 😱 These vendors promoting their wares by featuring integrations with Basecamp, usually under the banner of “time tracking”. Yikes!
We’ve decided it’s our obligation to resist the normalization of employee surveillance software. It is not right, it is not human, and unless we speak up now, we might well contribute to this cancer of mistrust and control spreading even after the COVID-19 crisis is behind us. That is not something we in good conscience could let happen.
So we’ve changed our policy governing the privilege to integrate with Basecamp, and the rules stipulating how our logo can be used to promote such integrations. As with all our policy work, it’s done in public. Here’s the pull request, and here are the key passages:
“Third parties may not access and employ the API if the functionality is part of an application that remotely records, monitors, or reports a Service user’s activity other than time tracking, both inside and outside the applications. The Company, in its sole discretion, will determine if an integration service violates this bylaw. A third party that has built and deployed an integration for the purpose of remote user surveillance will be required to remove that integration.”
“You must request permission to use the Company’s logo or any Service logos for promotional purposes. Please email us requests to use logos. We reserve the right to rescind this permission if you violate these Terms of Service.”
In other words, we’ve moved to ban employee surveillance vendors from integrating with Basecamp, and to use Basecamp’s logo under any circumstances. We’ve already reached out to all the vendors that we’ve deemed to be in violation of these terms, and given them notice and a deadline to halt the integration.
Look, employers are always free to – and should! – evaluate the work product produced by employees. But they don’t have to surveil someone’s every move or screenshot their computer every five minutes to do so. That’s monitoring the inputs. Monitor the outputs instead, and you’ll have a much healthier, saner relationship.
If you hire smart, capable people and trust them to do good work – surprise-surprise – people will return the sentiment deliver just that! The irony of setting up these invasive surveillance regimes is that they end up causing the motivation to goof off to beat the very systems that were setup to catch such behavior. It’s Hawthorne’s Effect on steroids.
Every manager should be capable of evaluating the work itself. If the work starts slipping, they should investigate why. Maybe an employee is dealing with a personal situation, maybe they’re just stuck, and didn’t ask for help. There are a million reasons more likely than “employee wanted to defraud their employer” when the work isn’t where it needs to be.
But either way, the end result is the same. People are employed to do good work. If they stop doing good work for a long period of time, and, after several interventions, aren’t able to turn that around, well, they’ll quite likely not be able to secure their employment any longer. No surveillance is necessary to make that determination.
Just say no to employee surveillance.