Summary and Quotes of “Rework: It doesn’t have to be crazy at work”
The book describes how Basecamp (the company) is run and how you could run your company in a calm, sustainable manner.
It is a quick read and thought-provoking. The ideas and views presented seem radical but on the other hand Basecamp has been a successful company for over 20 years and their employees seem to be happy. Their employee retention time is huge, especially for a US company:
“Out of the current 56 people who work at Basecamp, 33 have been with us for 5+ years. Of those 33, 25 have been with us for 7+ years, and 10 have been with us for 10+ years.”
Becoming a calm company is all about making decisions about who you are, who you want to serve, and who you want to say no to. It’s about knowing what to optimize for.
Think of your company as a product:
- Do people who work here know how to use the company? Is it simple? Complex? Is it obvious how it works? What’s fast about it? What’s slow about it? Are there bugs? What’s broken that we can fix quickly and what’s going to take a long time?
On goals and targets:
- What’s our market share? Don’t know, don’t care. It’s irrelevant. Do we have enough customers paying us enough money to cover our costs and generate a profit? Yes. Is that number increasing every year? Yes.
- Because let’s face it: Goals are fake. Nearly all of them are artificial targets set for the sake of setting targets. These made-up numbers then function as a source of unnecessary stress until they’re either achieved or abandoned.
About work load
- If you can’t fit everything you want to do within 40 hours per week, you need to get better at picking what to do, not work longer hours.
- Time-management hacks, life hacks, sleep hacks, work hacks. These all reflect an obsession with trying to squeeze more time out of the day, but rearranging your daily patterns to find more time for work isn’t the problem. Too much shit to do is the problem.
- Management scholar Peter Drucker nailed it decades ago when he said “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
- The answer isn’t more hours, it’s less bullshit. Less waste, not more production. And far fewer distractions, less always-on anxiety, and avoiding stress.
- Between all those context switches and attempts at multitasking, you have to add buffer time. Time for your head to leave the last thing and get into the next thing. This is how you end up thinking “What did I actually do today?” when the clock turns to five and you supposedly spent eight hours at the office. You know you were there, but the hours had no weight, so they slipped away with nothing to show.
- One thing at a time doesn’t mean one thing, then another thing, then another thing in quick succession; it means one big thing for hours at a time or, better yet, a whole day.
- People aren’t working longer and later because there’s more work to do all of a sudden. People are working longer and later because they can’t get work done at work anymore!
- All subject-matter experts at Basecamp now publish office hours. For some that means an open afternoon every Tuesday. For others it might be one hour a day. It’s up to each expert to decide their availability.
- Taking someone’s time should be a pain in the ass. Taking many people’s time should be so cumbersome that most people won’t even bother to try it unless it’s REALLY IMPORTANT! Meetings should be a last resort, especially big ones.
On “work ethic”
- A great work ethic isn’t about working whenever you’re called upon. It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do, putting in a fair day’s work, respecting the work, respecting the customer, respecting coworkers, not wasting time, not creating unnecessary work for other people, and not being a bottleneck. Work ethic is about being a fundamentally good person that others can count on and enjoy working with.
- Workaholism is a contagious disease. You can’t stop the spread if you’re the one bringing it into the office.
The concept of a “Trust Battery”:
- Tobias Lütke, CEO at Shopify, coined the term. Here’s how he explained it in a New York Times interview: “Another concept we talk a lot about is something called a ‘trust battery.’ It’s charged at 50 percent when people are first hired. And then every time you work with someone at the company, the trust battery between the two of you is either charged or discharged, based on things like whether you deliver on what you promise.”
- A low trust battery is at the core of many personal disputes at work. It powers stressful encounters and anxious moments. When the battery is drained, everything is wrong, everything is judged harshly. A 10 percent charge equals a 90 percent chance an interaction will go south.
On “My door is always open”:
- Instead of waiting for people to come, go out and ask them! Posing real, pointed questions is the only way to convey that it’s safe to provide real answers.
- “What’s something nobody dares to talk about?” or “Are you afraid of anything at work?” or “Is there anything you worked on recently that you wish you could do over?” Or even more specific ones like “What do you think we could have done differently to help Jane succeed?” or “What advice would you give before we start on the big website redesign project?”
- There’s no such thing as a casual suggestion when it comes from the owner of the business. When the person who signs the paychecks mentions this or that, this or that invariably becomes a top priority.
- Declaring that an unfamiliar task will yield low-hanging fruit is almost always an admission that you have little insight about what you’re setting out to do. And any estimate of how much work it’ll take to do something you’ve never tried before is likely to be off by degrees of magnitude.
Hiring & Pay
- When we’re choosing a new designer, we hire each of the finalists for a week, pay them $1,500 for that time, and ask them to do a sample project for us. Then we have something to evaluate that’s current, real, and completely theirs.
- We hired many of our best people not because of who they were but because of who they could become.
- We no longer negotiate salaries or raises at Basecamp. Everyone in the same role at the same level is paid the same. Equal work, equal pay.
- where you live has nothing to do with the quality of your work, and it’s the quality of your work that we’re paying you for.
- Hiring and training people is not only expensive, but draining. All that energy could go into making better products with people you’ve kept happy for the long term by being fair and transparent about salary and benefits.
- …we hire when it hurts. Slowly, and only after we clearly need someone. Not in anticipation of possibly maybe.
Treat the office like a Library
- Walk into a library anywhere in the world and you’ll notice the same thing: It’s quiet and calm. Everyone knows how to behave in a library. In fact, few things transcend cultures like library behavior. It’s a place where people go to read, think, study, focus, and work. And the hushed, respectful environment reflects that. Isn’t that what an office should be?
Deadlines and estimates
- You can’t fix a deadline and then add more work to it. That’s not fair. Our projects can only get smaller over time, not larger. As we progress, we separate the must-haves from the nice-to-haves and toss out the nonessentials.
- A deadline with a flexible scope invites pushback, compromises, and tradeoffs—all ingredients in healthy, calm projects. It’s when you try to fix both scope and time that you have a recipe for dread, overwork, and exhaustion.
- We’re not fans of estimates because, let’s face it, humans suck at estimating. But it turns out that people are quite good at setting and spending budgets. If we tell a team that they have six weeks to build a great calendar feature in Basecamp, they’re much more likely to produce lovely work than if we ask them how long it’ll take to build this specific calendar feature, and then break their weekends and backs to make it so.
Pitching new ideas
- When we present work, it’s almost always written up first. A complete idea in the form of a carefully composed multipage document. Illustrated, whenever possible. And then it’s posted to Basecamp, which lets everyone involved know there’s a complete idea waiting to be considered.
- Instead, they should allow everyone to be heard and then turn the decision over to one person to make the final call. It’s their job to listen, consider, contemplate, and decide.
- Everyone’s invited to pitch their ideas, make their case, and have their say, but then the decision is left to someone else. As long as people are truly heard and it’s repeatedly demonstrated that their voice matters, those who shared will understand that even if things don’t fall their way this time.
- The best companies aren’t families. They’re supporters of families. Allies of families. They’re there to provide healthy, fulfilling work environments so that when workers shut their laptops at a reasonable hour, they’re the best husbands, wives, parents, siblings, and children they can be.
- You don’t have to let something slide for long before it becomes the new normal. Culture is what culture does. Culture isn’t what you intend it to be. It’s not what you hope or aspire for it to be. It’s what you do. So do better.
- Jean-Louis Gassée, who used to run Apple France, describes this situation as the choice between two tokens. When you deal with people who have trouble, you can either choose to take the token that says “It’s no big deal” or the token that says “It’s the end of the world.” Whichever token you pick, they’ll take the other.
Project Team Size
- Nearly all product work at Basecamp is done by teams of three people.
- What if there are five departments involved in a project or a decision? There aren’t. We don’t work on projects like that—intentionally.
- What is it with three? Three is a wedge, and that’s why it works. Three has a sharp point. It’s an odd number, so there are no ties. It’s powerful enough to make a dent, but also weak enough to not break what isn’t broken. Big teams make things worse all the time by applying too much force to things that only need to be lightly finessed.
- Shipping real products gives you real answers.
- Do we miss things we could have found had we asked a bunch of people beforehand? Of course. But at what cost? Putting everything we build in front of customers beforehand is slow, costly, and results in a mountain of prerelease feedback that has to be sifted through, considered, debated, discussed, and decided upon. And yet it’s still all just a guess! That’s a lot of energy to spend guessing.
Promises and Roadmaps
- Promises pile up like debt, and they accrue interest, too. The longer you wait to fulfill them, the more they cost to pay off and the worse the regret.
- Sell new customers on the new thing and let old customers keep whatever they already have. This is the way to keep the peace and maintain the calm.
You have a choice. And if you don’t have the power to make things change at the company level, find your local level. You always have the choice to change yourself and your expectations. Change the way you interact with people. Change the way you communicate. Start protecting your own time.