Employee-surveillance software is not welcome to integrate with Basecamp

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.

8 thoughts on “Employee-surveillance software is not welcome to integrate with Basecamp

  1. Thank you for your stand. Absolutely 100% agree. This has exposed the gross incompetence of “managers” who are incapable of measuring anything other than seat time.

    Background: Until I retired last Fall, I was a remote worker for fifteen years (management elsewhere in US and dev team in India). Always 100% accountable for my output, and had a standard 2 hour daily window of availability for conference calls, but other than that I did what I want when I wanted. Everyone loved that I just got done what needed to be done.

  2. “As faith would have it”

    I have never seen this phrase or use of that word before.

    I have seen something similar as part of a “cheap shot” construction, where one imputes a negative connotation to a word by implicating it in a negative context.

    This kind of construction is frequently used by politicians or mob activists to “poison” any positive feeling of a word or idea away from its original meaning and so sway public opinion over time.

    It’s classic propaganda machinery.

    As a modern day example, the new atheists love to conflate “faith” with “blind faith”, whereas the original word simply meant “trust”.

    I don’t assume you’re using “faith” here like that as a cheap shot. Curious as to why you wrote that phrase the way you did?

  3. I love you guys. Truly. Just read ‘it doesn’t have to be crazy at work’ and am now disrupting my entire company with my ‘new-fangled ideas’.

    Thank you.

  4. Good for you. But re. “other than time tracking”, isn’t time tracking already the nose of the camel, surveillance-wise? Playing the devil’s advocate for one second, what is the point of tracking time if you don’t also track what is being done with that time?

    1. My guess is that people are paid hourly for a lot of jobs, and this is just to to allow for that.

  5. Hey David,

    I think you are missing out one important thing about the control: it’s an important tool to contribute to the building of the discipline required to work remotely, specially if the employee is not used to remote work yet.

  6. Great article, David.

    This surveillance state reminds me of the Panopticon, a hypothetical prison designed by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century.

    The prison is a circular building where inmates can’t be sure they are being watched, but they know they might. So they behave themselves.
    No whips. No chains.

    I’m not sure if links are allowed in the comments, but I’ll take the risk and recommend this brief and great analysis by the philosopher Oliver on the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHRPzp09Kqc

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