[AMA] Andrea LaRowe, Head of People Operations at Basecamp

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November 20, 2020

Basecamp needs no introduction -- as remote work advocates for years, the team at Basecamp are known for pushing the boundaries of how we work and why we work the way we do. Get to know Andrea, Basecamp's Head of People Operations and seize this opportunity to ask her questions about remote work life at the remote-first company, their hiring process and more. Don't miss it!

How to join:

The AMA will be in chat form and take place in the WWR Slack community in #ama. There's no need to register ahead of time. Be sure to save the date and come prepared with your questions!

About Andrea:

Andrea LaRowe is the Head of People Operations at Basecamp.

"We make Basecamp, a project management platform and the best tool for companies to work remotely. We also recently launched HEY, our take on email. And one of our founders, David Heinemeier Hansson, is the creator of the framework Ruby on Rails, which of course we use to build all our applications."

As Head of People, Andrea's responsible for employee engagement, benefits and compensation, hiring, on-boarding, performance management, related policies and procedures, and overall making sure employees at Basecamp have an excellent experience! She hails from Chicago and has been with Basecamp for 10 years.

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Transcript from the AMA

Justine Shu

Happy Friday and welcome to today’s AMA with @Andrea LaRowe, Head of People Ops at Basecamp 🙌

If you haven’t yet, please review the guidelines for the AMA that’s pinned to this channel.

Andrea is responsible for employee engagement, benefits and compensation, hiring, on-boarding, performance management, related policies and procedures, and overall making sure employees at Basecamp have an excellent experience! She hails from Chicago and has been with Basecamp for 10 years!Andrea, thank you for being here and taking the time to connect with the WWR community.

Let’s get started!

Andrea LaRowe

Happy to be here! Happy Friday, everyone!

Question 1

Hi Andrea. My question is, for people not from the US or UK, but rather from Asia or Africa, how do we get in touch with requiters, especially the US ones?

Andrea LaRowe

We hire for all roles directly, no recruiters. Jobs are always at basecamp.com/jobs and the related newsletter that you can sign up for there. Generally speaking on APAC locations, that’s tough for us. We usually require a 4-hour overlap with US time zones for most of our positions, to allow for collaboration in real time and to best facilitate onboarding.

Follow up

That’s super interesting. Have you all experimented with hires in APAC, ANZ?

Andrea LaRowe

We have had support folks there, to cover 24/7 customer support. But product roles, no. We’ve found we need that overlap for those roles.

Question 2

Hi Andrea, it’s great to have you here!  @Justine Shu Thank you!!! What’s your idea of a great candidate (leaving the technical aspects of a position aside)?

Andrea LaRowe

‍Hiya! All great candidates, regardless of discipline, approach their work with a well-defined sense of ownership, authority, thoughtfulness, and craft.

I love talking to candidates who can speak in depth about their work, why they do it, why they love it, and how their perspective can inform Basecamp’s company & product in a fresh way

Question 3

How profitable did Basecamp/37Signals have to become before they could implement  the top 10% of San Francisco market rates + $70k  floor location independent salary structure? I’d like to influence my company to start doing this as well, but as a non-founder in a similarly boot strapped software company… not sure how to plant, water and harvest those seeds

Andrea LaRowe

Yeah, we were admittedly really privileged to be able to do that. Our comp structure really starts with equity. Equal pay for equal work, regardless of location or even tenure. If you come in with senior programmer level skills, you’re paid the same as the senior programmer that’s been at Basecamp for 5 years. So the salary floor came about because of that market-based comp structure. Support/service roles are generally undervalued in the marketplace, especially in tech, and we wanted to redefine that for people who work at Basecamp.

Question 4

Hi Andrea, thanks for being here. I’ve been searching hard for a remote job since I was let go in April. I have found that in this market, I cannot get even a HR screen with companies where I have direct connections on their team. Since I don’t interview, I get no feedback on why I was passed over. It’s very disheartening. Assuming a candidate meets most of the qualifications on a posting, how do the best ones catch your eye in the early screening process?

Andrea LaRowe

‍Hi! First, I’m sorry to hear that. Hang in there. Second, when I screen applications, I’m not looking for flash or eye-catching stuff. It’s all about substance, content, again thoughtfulness. And above all else, clear, concise, approachable writing. I want to be engaged in someone’s application (cover letter!). If that happens, they meet the job qualifications, and it’s clear they’ve put some real thought into why they want this job, I’d likely move them ahead.

Question 5

Any advice on how to successfully navigate your first months with a company?

Andrea LaRowe

‍At Basecamp, new folks should learn to rely on their coworkers. Ask questions! Too many questions! All the questions! When you work remotely, that’s even more important, right? You can’t turn around and poke your coworker on the shoulder, or casually ask someone in the kitchen. You have to enthusiastically reach out in an effort to learn and connect. But it should flow in the other direction even more. As a new person, reaching out can be uncomfortable, so existing team members should be the ones initiating those relationships and nurturing them. We try to create intentional space & opportunity for that during folks’ first few months.

So as the new person, I would make a point to ask my manager about that framework. Who to ask, when, what’s the existing culture around learning

Question 6

Hi! Is there anything that you would say is unique about how Basecamp does something like performance management? Or do you feel like you try to pick out general best practices that work within the context of Basecamp?

Andrea LaRowe

‍Yeah performance management and professional development at Basecamp is very much driven by the individual. Managers & teammates are there to support and guide and assist, but not inform. It can be a challenge especially as a new employee, but ultimately it’s liberating and rewarding. We do have traditional practices like performance reviews, 360s, PIPs. But I think the people who feel the most performance satisfaction at basecamp are those who find their own goals, make their own path, really develop a sense of ownership over their own performance, and who depend less on those formal assurances.

Question 6

Hi Andrea, as someone who works in the tech industry, my non-tech friends keep asking me: what is the difference between People Ops and H.R. (human resources) ?

Is there much overlap?

Thanks again for being here, much appreciated!

Andrea LaRowe

‍Hallo! I tend to think of HR as existing for the sake of the company, and People Ops existing for the sake of the employees. HR protects the biz interests, PO protects the employee interests. That said, there’s overlap as I need to know best practices for policies & procedures, legal stuff (how’s that for technical), that sort of thing.

Question 7

You’ve been hiring remotely for a long time. What’s your favorite advice to give when it comes to remote hiring?

Andrea LaRowe

Oh boy! We’ve been hiring remotely forever, so I tend to forget it’s unique 😅 The biggest benefit to remote hiring is the reach. I can talk to the best candidates in the world. So I think the best advice stems from that reach. Be enthusiastically open to candidates from different backgrounds, different experiences. They’re out there, and they’re ready to inform your work in an interesting way that maybe you’d not expect. And something totally unrelated.. remote interviewing can be weird. When you’re in person, you form a connection much more easily than via Zoom. So take an extra 5 minutes to connect with each other during an interview, it’ll open up the conversation in positive ways.

Question 8

How long do you typically scan a resume/application before you know whether or not you will move forward with the candidate? What does that process look like? Do you read the resume or cover letter first? Is it done in bulk at the end of the day? What happens next? And what can we do as applicants to make that process easier on you and the rest of the team?

Andrea LaRowe

Hiya! Usually less than 5 minutes. We use ATS called Workable, so all applications go there. We tend to get 500-1000 applications for each role. I almost always read the cover letter first. Sometimes for a very technical role, I’ll vet the resume first. I tend to set aside hours at a time to screen applications, since there are just so many. But I usually cap it at 3 hours so I don’t start to glaze over and miss good applications bc I’m tired. You can do nothing to make it easier! It’s a process and it works for us, and while we might tweak it on occasion, it’s generally a healthy way to hire. We have to sit with the applications, get a feel for what people are saying, before making decisions. It’s a very human process and yeah it’s looong, but I wouldn’t change it.

I should say, the 5 minutes is usually enough to remove unqualified applicants. If I like or think I might like to read deeper, I save it to devote more time to it.

Question 9

Hello! Thanks for a lot for doing this AMA 👋 How do you approach hiring people as contractors or local FTEs? Do you give people a choice of the form of working with Basecamp? If yes do you adjust salaries or benefits or try to keep it as similar as possible?

Andrea LaRowe

Hi hi! All of our US-based employees are FTEs. Anyone outside of the US is a contractor. No choices to be made! 🙂  Contractors and FTEs receive the same salaries and benefits, as best we can manage.

Follow up

Did you notice any issues with hiring women outside US because of that? In some countries the maternity leave policies for example may not be that good for contractors, as they are for FTEs. We hire people outside US as contractors as well, but I always wondered if it doesn’t have a negative impact on diversity.

Andrea LaRowe

I imagine this has come up, but I don’t have any data to support it. Our PTO package is very good, even compared to most EU countries (18 days discretionary + ~15 summer Fridays off + 10 public holidays + untracked sick time + 30 day sabbatical every 3 years). But I concur that parental leave, maybe not so much, and some women (or men!) may have self selected out of applying for that reason.

Question 10

Hey Andrea! This is awesome, thanks for being here. Been a fan and admirer of Basecamp for a long time, and I’m super happy you’re here! I’m curious — with such a transparent company with open and widely admired co founders that speak publicly about issues in society and tech, is there any downside or issues that come up with being so transparent in your business practices? I myself can’t think of one, and I generally agree with almost everything Basecamp stands for, but I am curious about how this amount of transparency affects you at the employee and manager level if at all.

Andrea LaRowe

Hi! Love being here! The only downside is that people feel they know exactly what it’s like to work at Basecamp. When we hire, this is an especially important expectation to manage. All our policies and philosophies and values are out there! And while the day to day work is informed by that stuff, it’s also just work! So we have to talk about the daily realities, the daily challenges when we hire new folks. Pull back the curtain a little bit.

Question 11

Do you think the Basecamp team will ever extend your “summer hours” into the rest of the year? What do you think about the 4-day work week concept that’s been recently getting more attention again?

Andrea LaRowe

Probably not. One of the cool features of summer hours is the seasonal element to it. It creates an ebb and flow, a smooth cadence to the entire year. Summer’s our time to slow down a little.

Question 12

What’s the biggest change you’ve made in your hiring process over the last years that you’d say had an impact in the quality of applications you receive?

Andrea LaRowe

The way we write our job ads. They’re incredibly specific and they highlight the day-to-day work people will be doing. That helps candidates identify with the position that’s really right for them, so a large percentage of applicants are qualified. The credit for those goes to the team leads. They spend a ton of time crafting those ads, and it really pays off.

Justine Shu

Thank you everyone for joining today and asking your fantastic questions and thank you again, Andrea for taking the time to be here, we really appreciate it 🙌

Andrea LaRowe

That was super fun! Thanks again, all!

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