Pando

Citing investor pressure, memo says ClearSlide employees should be working "at least" ten hours a day without overtime

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on November 9, 2015

From The Legal Affairs Desk

Startup life can be hard: Constantly shifting goalposts, uncertain job security, and long, long  hours.

But there’s a line between encouraging employees to “crush it” and actually mandating working conditions that work employees into the ground, or may even violate labor law. Just ask the employees of ClearSlide, who last week received a depressing email, forwarded to Pando by an anonymous tipster.

The message, apparently sent by a member of the company’s upper management, starts by saying that the company is at an “inflection point”  and that it is “facing some tough business challenges.”

And then comes this: (emphasis mine)

 So what's it going to take?  For one, I feel that we're to need "more" from ourselves and our teams….

It's going to require more:

- Creativity

- Competitiveness

- Passion

- Efficiency

- Urgency

- Energy

- Commitment

- Effort

- Hours

Yes, Hours.

We need to all push ourselves and our teammates to step up and raise the bar.  While we're not going to become an hour-tracking culture, we've had a 9-5 mentality over the years and we need a step function change to break out of it, together.  So ask yourself if you're doing enough ... while things will ebb and flow, if it's not averaging out to at least 10 hours a day, whether it's at office, working productively on your commute, or engaged at home and on Slack, you might need to dig deeper. Some of you do that already.  Some of you do that already and don't even realize that you're doing it, given your passion for the work.  But some of you might need to look in the mirror and make sure you're really doing enough.

"At least" ten hours, including mandating that employees work at home and even while commuting. If that's the baseline then how long should a ClearSlide employee work each day to actually thrive? Twelve hours? Fifteeen?

California labor law says that, for most categories of workers, and unless employees explicitly agree otherwise (and, even then, only with plenty of caveats), a company must pay overtime for workdays longer than eight hours. Even then, there are rules about how that policy has to be implemented, and how workers are free to decline to work.

Has ClearSlide considered the legal implications of suddenly demanding ten hour days?

Yesterday evening I called ClearSlide’s CEO, Dustin Grosse, to find out. He confirmed that the email had come from someone inside the company, but declined to name the sender, saying only that it was a “zealous,” “younger” member of the engineering team. “I’m going to have a nice chat with him, I assure you,” he added, ominously.

(The email opened “Team ... we're meeting for our inaugural "Town Hall" meeting at 3:15 today.  Raj and I will be joined by Dustin.” Raj would appear to be VP Product, Raj Gossain and Dustin is Dustin Grosse.)  

However, despite the fact that he was named in the email and was present at the meeting, Grosse insisted that he was not aware of its contents, or the ten hour policy, until I contacted him. He said that he intended to “correct” the message when he next met with his staff. “It doesn’t reflect any company policy.” 

He then listed the perks available to employees including “unlimited vacation time” and a shuttle service. And said that the email wasn't really about asking employees to work longer hours but was more likely an attempt by the unnamed manager “to stir up a sense of passion.”  

Passion, perhaps, like that expressed by this anonymous employee, writing on the company's Glassdoor profile:

So no one at ClearSlide is getting fired if they “only” work eight hours a day? “Absolutely not," says Grosse. Nobody is going to get fired for doing eight hours, or less.”

Good news, ClearSlide employees, you won't be fired if you're not on Slack while putting your kids to bed!

Still, I asked Grosse how it’s possible that the ten hour policy didn't come up in the “Town Hall” meeting mentioned in the email. Wasn't the whole point of the memo to frame the topics of the meeting? A pause. “I wasn’t present for the entire meeting,” he told me. “I certainly didn’t mention it.”

Taking Grosse at his word – that he didn’t read the all hands email, didn’t know what his employees are being told about working hours, and skipped out early on the company’s first Town Hall meeting – it seems like the CEO isn’t keeping the closest eye on ClearSlide’s day-to-day operations.

The final paragraph of the email hints at what might be distracting him. The company is now in “wartime”, with “investors questioning [it].” It also suggests that cash is getting low, something we at Pando can certainly relate to:

 [I]f we all feel the competition breathing down our necks (they are), our customers and investors questioning us (they are), and operating with the cash we have ... we should be acting with much more urgency than we are.  The innovation and the energy, and yes, the hours, will come from that.  And ultimately we'll have a much better chance to be a great company and achieve a great outcome.  

I asked Grosse to explain the line about investor pressure. Is the company in trouble? “That surprised me too,” he said.  

If you work at ClearSlide and know who sent the email, and/or can tell me what was said at the meeting, drop me a line – in confidence – at [email protected]. I’ll update this post if I learn any more.  

Here’s the full email:

Team ... we're meeting for our inaugural "Town Hall" meeting at 3:15 today.  Raj and I will be joined by Dustin.  Please bring your best questions for this meeting, and don't be shy ... fastballs, softballs, and curveballs.  

Ahead of this meeting, I did want to share my thoughts about the message you've all heard in the past few days about the entire company, our group included, pushing ourselves more.  I hope this helps and we can follow up more at the meeting today and afterwards.  

We all know that the company is at an inflection point ... while we're now much more aligned on what we need to go do, we're facing some tough business challenges that we need to overcome to get back on the growth path.  So what's it going to take?  For one, I feel that we're to need "more" from ourselves and our teams.  

So what exactly do we need "more" of?

Most importantly, we need more:

- Velocity

- Output

- Impact

But how do we get that?  It's going to require more:

- Creativity

- Competitiveness

- Passion

- Efficiency

- Urgency

- Energy

- Commitment

- Effort

- Hours

Yes, Hours.

We need to all push ourselves and our teammates to step up and raise the bar.  While we're not going to become an hour-tracking culture, we've had a 9-5 mentality over the years and we need a step function change to break out of it, together.  So ask yourself if you're doing enough ... while things will ebb and flow, if it's not averaging out to at least 10 hours a day, whether it's at office, working productively on your commute, or engaged at home and on Slack, you might need to dig deeper.  Some of you do that already.  Some of you do that already and don't even realize that you're doing it, given your passion for the work.  But some of you might need to look in the mirror and make sure you're really doing enough.

In the end, the most important of these is a sense of urgency ... if we all feel the competition breathing down our necks (they are), our customers and investors questioning us (they are), and operating with the cash we have ... we should be acting with much more urgency than we are.  The innovation and the energy, and yes, the hours, will come from that.  And ultimately we'll have a much better chance to be a great company and achieve a great outcome.  

Put simply, we're a startup.  And we've just gone from peacetime to wartime. And we need to act accordingly.  Let's go do it!