How Basecamp Became a 100% Remote Company

Moving is never fun. It’s bad enough when it’s your stuff, but ten years of stuff at an office you only spent two years in can be daunting! I’m Navid, and part of my job at Basecamp the last two years has been taking care of our office in Chicago. As folks outside of Basecamp learned of our impending office closure, I began to get some questions. The most common being “what did you do with the stuff? What about mail and important documents?” Of course we had to work out some logistical puzzles to keep things running smoothly. Here’s how we used Basecamp and a new service to bid adieu to our office, to make my job remote, and to become a 100% remote company.

We didn’t close down our office because of COVID-19, though it certainly factored in the decision. Basecamp has always been remote. Remote is Basecamp. We wrote the book on it, literally. Our lease was due to expire, and it just didn’t seem worth it to keep it going at the new price. We’d outgrown it as a space for meetups, and it was always too big for the number of Basecampers that reside in Chicago. On a busy day there’d be six people working from the office.

On the other hand, having an office afforded us the standard ways of handling a lot of day-to-day business items. Mail, packages, meetings, storage. It was simple, easy, and the path that most of the world has taken. Losing the office and going 100% remote would take us further down a path less travelled.

Once we came to terms with leaving the office, I got to work on figuring out what to do to meet this goal. I won’t bore you with the minute details that are common to every move, you want to know what we are doing now. How we got to 100% remote. The biggest hurdles to jump were: 1. Primary business address (as most government agencies require a physical address), 2. How to handle the mail/packages, and 3. How to manage key document storage. 

I looked at a few options for our business address and for mail/packages. When the pandemic started, we re-routed our mail to a PO Box near my home. This eliminated the need for me to take public transit or a ride-share to check the mail. The PO Box would’ve been a great long-term solution if it weren’t for two things. 1) We need a new business address, and 2) it still ties me to Chicago.

I also looked at a UPS Store Mailbox. UPS is a great service! You can use it as your business address and they receive your mail and packages, then forward it at your request to anywhere you want. The drag on this is that all the mail will be bundled and shipped, creating further delays in getting the items. So if there is any urgency, you’ll need to get to the mailbox yourself.

In the midst of all of this, someone from Earth Class Mail (ECM) reached out to David via Twitter. ECM, like UPS, offers a business address and they receive your mail and packages. The main, and biggest, difference is that they scan all of your mail for you to review online. If you need any originals, they ship it to you. They also deposit checks for you via overnight shipping to your bank.

Of course, I opted for ECM in the end. They tick all the boxes to make Basecamp 100% remote, and they meet needs we hadn’t considered, like the check deposits. In the first few weeks, I have only tested the mail scanning service, which is working great. I’m looking forward to seeing how mail/package forwarding and check deposits go.

Another question I’ve answered recently is how we handle document retention. I’m definitely not holding onto these items in my home. We use Basecamp! Not long after I started here I began saving digital copies of everything important to Basecamp. I save each document in Basecamp with a name, the amount, and any relevant notes. Keeping only digital copies of invoices, checks, and tax paperwork saves on office space, a luxury we no longer have, and more importantly the documents are secure, searchable, and accessible to anyone who needs them.

When I’m not sure, I check in with our accountants about anything we should keep hard copies of. If there is any chance we would need an original paper copy, we keep it. At the moment we don’t have a permanent solution for these instances (honestly, it isn’t much), so they are locked up in storage. The goal will be to eventually not need a storage space.

That covers how we are remote now! Did I miss anything? Feel free to leave a comment.

26 thoughts on “How Basecamp Became a 100% Remote Company

  1. Thanks for this. Very helpful. Can I ask how/where you manage physical meet-ups now? Or is that a thing of the past?

    1. Hello Anne! We are putting them on hold for the foreseeable future. Once we get through this pandemic, we are going to reevaluate the situation.

  2. Thanks for ECM. I’ll check it out. How are you handling the physical address when it comes to employee taxes? Do your employees say they work in Chicago and pay taxes there?

    1. Hi Greg! Anywhere in the USA that we have an employee, we are registered as an employer. If they live in Texas, they pay taxes in Texas, and so do we.

  3. Good topic. Re the long term storage of paper records, you could consider a “modern records” service near you. Here in the UK each local authority (government)legally has responsibility to store certain docs. I work for a council and one of my teams does this on behalf of the council and does external clients too. It’s like £20 per box per year. May be worth you seeking out such a service near a key location. The key term is “modern records” which is a profession of information management. Good luck

  4. Do you ever have situation where you need the physical signatures of specific people on the team (or has the US already OK basically with all digital signatures)? This sometimes is painful for us here in Asia.

    1. Fortunately we’ve been able to use digital signatures. If something requires a real signature, we would cross that bridge when we get to it. Probably overnight it.

    2. Print/sign/scan (and then print the scanned PDF if someone needs a hard copy) has worked really well for us for years for any documents that ask for a physical signature. Has been totally fine for enterprise vendor contracts, applications to regulatory agencies, federal and state tax returns, etc.

  5. I’m curious about the people who did regularly work from the office. When it becomes safe to do so again, what are they going to do?

    1. Hi Julie!
      Most of the folks already had a home office or work from home space. Once it becomes safe, some folks may choose to use a co-working space. When the pandemic started we had Wailin & Shaun build out tiny recording studios in their homes to accommodate the REWORK recording (fortunately they had the space for this).

  6. How do you search within the documents themselves, using Basecamp? One tiny “issue” with Basecamp (I’m a long-time user and fan), though it could be considered a [privacy] feature and not an issue, is that it does not peek inside docs (Word docs, PDFs, etc.). So I can search the description (if any) in the Basecamp metadata but I can’t search for “Fred Flintstone” as text INSIDE the Word doc or PDF. Assuming that ECM does OCR for you in the PDFs they create (ah, sentences full of acronyms), is this a limitation for you?

  7. Hey Dan!
    Great question. I use it in exactly the way you described – I search the descriptions of doc that I save to Basecamp. If I need to dig deeper into it, I download the doc for local access. ECM does the OCR, so that makes it easier once I’ve downloaded the doc locally.

    I’d say it’s a little bit inconvenient and clutters my computer more than I like. But if the reason is privacy and security, I’m not going to argue with that.

    I hope that answered your question.

  8. I am a great fan of Basecamp although now retired. I did run a fairly big enterprise in London and found that there were no documents of which I needed hard copy once they were scanned. HMRC & Inland Revenue and even Land Registry were all happy with scans and we ended up with no filing cabinets and a much easier search procedure.

  9. I’d +1 the OCR… I never quite managed to fully migrate to Basecamp as we were so reliant on the search functionality of Evernote. Using URLs I managed to fit this into the Basecamp paradigm… but if google docs et al can be integrated Into BC3 could Evernote or another OCR solution be fully integrated into BC4?

  10. Great post. One question: how do you handle returns of hardware (computers, etc.) if someone leaves the company?

    1. Hello Manny!
      The computer hardware belongs to the employee. This makes the accounting portion easier, as well as avoiding having to return items.

  11. I honestly love the philosophy behind how you guys do everything. It’s simple, effective. You don’t check the box just because everyone else checks it. You ask, “why is that box even there in the first place.”

    The ECM recommendation was great too!

  12. How do you manage data on hardware?
    Is your employee connect to central server and work on them?
    No data on local?

    1. Hi Sid!
      We use VPNs to keep a secure connection, and do most of our work on Basecamp. We often have to download items from Basecamp to our local drives, then upload newer versions to Basecamp.

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