Our Second Handbook

About a year ago, if you'd asked me about the Figure 53 company handbook, I would have proudly pointed you to a spare little page that contained the following text:

These are important business policies for Figure 53 internal use.

Company Lunches

Every Monday and Friday, unless one of those is a national holiday. In that case, lunch will be moved to the nearest non-holiday weekday.

That, in its entirety, was our company handbook.

I was rather proud of it, to be honest. My teammate Adam had written it on a day when, after a Monday holiday, he found himself unsure if he could order himself the customary company lunch to start the week. I remember him beginning to ask the question, and then stopping mid-sentence and turning to his computer. We watched him log in to our server, create a new page on the site, type out an answer to his own question, and then turn to announce that lunch would indeed be on the company that day.

I loved that little handbook! It represented two things I wanted our company to embody: a place with no dumb rules, and where each person had the agency to define who we are and how we do things. It seemed just right, and it sat on our server for years as our Official Company Handbook. What else did we need, really?

But then, about a year ago, we started reading about some bad things happening in the tech industry. To be sure, it wasn't that these things only began happening a year ago, but a series of high-profile stories brought the topic more directly to my attention than it had ever been before.

I didn't keep links to all the stories at the time, but it seemed like every week brought a new one: harassment and mistreatment of women, people of color, and other born-less-privileged folks at well-respected tech companies and tech events where "meritocracy" was the only "rule". A common thread to these stories was an apparent confidence from the leadership of each organization that these were great places to work, which hadn't felt a need to spend time and money on the drudgery of handbooks, guidelines, rules, or human resource departments.

The result, we learned, was a sort of high school level emergent culture, which produced not a safe and empowering space for adults to be creative, but rather an opportunity for unhealthy social power dynamics to develop unchecked.

We began to feel less and less comfortable about our own company policies, or rather, lack thereof. It felt tempting to delay it as something we'd need only when we got bigger, like the companies in the news stories. We are pretty tiny, and we were even tinier then. But the more we thought about it, the more we realized the time was now, not later.

So we spent a year, off and on, working on our second official handbook. The whole company shaped it, but my teammates Cricket and Lola deserve the lion's share of the credit for writing and ushering it into existence.

It's a document for us, but we decided to also make it publicly available. We see this as a way to keep us honest, and as a reference point for any other small companies who might be working through some of the same questions we had a year ago. I hope this might encourage other companies to spend some time to consider these issues and do something about them.

You can find it here, if you're curious:

http://figure53.com/handbook/

We don't think it's perfect, but it's a start. And yes, the Company Lunch policy remains, unmodified from the original.

Chris Ashworth is the founder of Figure 53
@Chris_Ashworth