37Signals Breaks Free of Rigid Work Culture

 
 
By Don E. Sears  |  Posted 2009-11-06 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

You don't have to be locked in a cubicle for 60 hours a week to complete your technological work or to be successful. 37Signals, a Web software company that makes organizational apps like Basecamp, Ta-da List and Backpack, thrives by helping workers find more freedom with their time and recharge daily as they see fit while focusing on getting things done.

With 3 million customers and only 16 employees, 37Signals seems to have found a nice balance for its employees and its owners; at least, that's the impression one takes from a recent article written in Inc. by one of 37Signals' founders, Jason Fried.

Want to work at home? Cool. Want to come in to the office? No problem. Want to take a few hours off in the middle of the day to goof off and look at Internet videos or read? Please do it; it's encouraged, Fried said. He doesn't believe in treating employees like children.

Oh, and he detests meetings, so the company doesn't really have them. There is group chat software they use (Campfire, 37Signals' own application) through which people can post questions, make suggestions and "meet" as needed.

Meetings are "a huge waste of time, and they're costly. It's not 1 hour; it's 10, because you pulled 10 people away from their real work. Plus, they chop your day into small bits, so you have only 20 minutes of free time here or 45 minutes there," Fried wrote in the Inc. article.

If an issue is urgent, it will be addressed, as Fried, his partners and his employees are generally working moment to moment, something that Fried suggests keeps him grounded and keeps the company focused on its customers and their needs-though Fried is not afraid to tell his customers that they are probably not going to get everything they ask for.

Here's Fried's take on his day:

"I might work from home for a week and then get bored of that, so I will spend the next week at the office. I live about two miles from my office... I usually get to work between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Of the 16 people at the company, eight of us live here in Chicago. Employees come to the office if and when they feel like it, or else they work from home. I don't believe in the 40-hour workweek, so we cut all that BS about being somewhere for a certain number of hours. I have no idea how many hours my employees work-I just know they get the work done."


After his midday recharging by reading nonfiction books and drinking tea, Fried said he usually finds another productive spurt in the late afternoon, then in the evening after dinner, where he puts in a few more hours.

How does this unorthodox work culture get employees to connect with each other? Beyond collaborating on daily projects, the company has two paid vacations where they all get a chance to be together.

It sounds idyllic, but it isn't clear how well this would work for many larger businesses in enterprise technology and elsewhere. It's difficult to imagine that this work environment would work for everyone. But isn't it nice to hear from a business owner willing to shake up the day-to-day so everyone can focus on getting work done, rather than feel they are chained to their chairs?

When products are near launch at 37Signals things get hectic, admitted Fried, but he and his team are not rattled. This culture appears to work very well for the kind of business they are in ... They build products that they want to use, and they make them simple. It's refreshing to hear that simplicity translates over into the daily lives of workers.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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