For a long time, Reddit ran a famously scrappy operation. The front page of the internet, with amazing visitor numbers, run by a very small team. A great counter to the notion that you had to be big to do Internet Scale. When the team finally started to swell a bit, they did so as a distributed operation across three main cities, with full remote workers as well. For many, and for me, it was a feel-good, stick-with-it story of success.
Recently, Reddit leadership even managed to spin $50 million in venture capital as a wonderful event — even for users (who somehow will get cut in on the deal — using crypto currency no less! – lest they consider how this money might be repaid). What didn’t get mentioned in all those glorious press releases and fawning USA Today write-ups was the raw deal offered behind the scenes to the employees who helped to make the company what it is today, the company valued at a half billion dollars.
According to inside sources, Reddit’s CEO announced to the team, just shortly before celebrating the venture capital loot, that there would be some changes to the work environment.
The first decree was this: Everyone would have to move to San Francisco. No more Salt Lake City office, responsible for Reddit Gifts. No more New York office, responsible for selling ads. No more remote programmers or remote community support people. Basically, all the people bringing in the revenue for Reddit (used to justify their huge valuation) were asked to uproot everything, to hurry up and get their asses to the Bay Area.
And the kicker — they had 1 week to decide, and 2 months to get it done. Or, you know, Get The Fuck Outta There. Well, that was the first version of the decree. Version 2.0 was that they had 2 weeks to decide. Finally, version 3.0 of the decree rolled out, which was that employees had until the end of the year.
Can you imagine a more serious fuck you from your supposedly hip employer? You have one week (or hey, maybe even two weeks!) to decide whether you want to yank your kids out of school, whether you want to jeopardize your work visa, whether there’s any way for your spouse to get a job 3,000 miles away. And just two months to get it done. You’d probably get more leniency from a corporate raider named Gekko!
As if this wasn’t callous enough, the justification for this shit sandwich took it over the top. In a tweet confirming the move, Reddit’s CEO justified his treatment of non-San Francisco workers with a push for Optimal Teamwork to drive the New And $50M Improved Reddit forward. I shit you not. That was the actual term! (I added the New & Improved fan fiction here).
So let’s leave aside the debate over whether working remotely is as efficient as being in the same office all the time. Let’s just focus on the size of the middle finger given to the people who work at Reddit outside the Bay Area, given the choice of forced, express relocation or a pink slip. How optimal do you think these employees will feel about leadership and the rest of the team going forward? Do you think they’ll just show up at the new, apparently-not-even-in-San-Francisco-proper office with a smile from ear to ear, ready to begin in earnest on Optimal Teamwork, left-behind former colleagues be damned?
Unlike the Yahoo situation, where the remote workers made up just a tiny fraction of the workforce who got sacrificed on the ceremonial altar, the people working from Salt Lake City and New York constitute just a bit under half the Reddit workforce!
Oh, and what was Reddit going to spend all that new VC coin on? HIRING A BIGGER STAFF. So, first, let’s take on $50M to hire new people. Then risk losing half the people we already have, or end up with a poisoned atmosphere from the forced express relocation. I think somewhere in there, there’s supposed to be a step four that’s profit. The steps in between are for the bean counters to figure out.
And let’s talk about those bean counters. In a hilarious twist of hypocrisy, some of the VCs funding this $50M injection into Reddit have been on a tear about how startups are spending too damn much money these days! The burn rate is too high! This smells like the dot com again.
Now these same VCs are sanctioning a plan to dump on the parts of Reddit actually making any money (gifts and ads), and they want to move the whole team to one of the most expensive cities in the world. Oh, and pay for everyone to move there. Oh, and hire even more people in that area.
This just reeks of incompetence and lack of imagination. Instead of making it work with the guys and girls that helped get you there, instead of following in the footsteps of other progressive, distributed workforces, it’s the new Optimal-Teamwork-in-SF way or the highway. Instead of sharing the champagne, it’s “Hey, here’s a cold glass of water in your face.” We may look and sound like the fun guys of the internet, but we’ve got money now. Even if the main goal was to purge the existing Reddit workforce, the way they’ve gone about it is stomach curdling.
Why do I care? Yeah, I have a history of knocking VCs, and yes, I co-wrote a book about remote work, but neither are a prerequisite to feeling bad for the people getting such a raw deal (at a website I enjoy every day). And sometimes that sense of injustice gets me to call shit out. Loudly. On the Internet. You know, like just about half the stuff that makes it on that front page of said Internet. It’s probably why the sources wrote me.
It’s hard not to get worked up about something that seems so unfair and so shitty to the people who did their part to get Reddit to where they are today. It feels like using people in the worst possible way. It smells like hopeless inadequacy to subject your workers to such a huge life change based on such flimsy justification.
Yes, I’m pissed off on behalf of Reddit workers. If you can imagine yourself in their shoes, wouldn’t you be?