eDiscovery Daily Blog

Away CEO Resigns After “Slack Bullying” Revealed in Report from The Verge: eDiscovery Trends

“Yes”, you say, “this is an interesting story, but what does it have to do with eDiscovery?”  And, why is there a picture of Yogi Berra on this story?  Read on and you’ll find out.

After an article (Emotional Baggage, written by Zoe Schiffer) by The Verge last week exposed a story where ex-employees claimed Away, a luggage startup hid a “toxic work culture”, the travel brand announced it hired the Lululemon executive Stuart Haselden as the company’s new CEO to replace current CEO Steph Korey, who is stepping down just four days after the article.

Like many fast-growing startups, Away’s workplace is organized around digital communication. It’s how employees talk, plan projects, and get feedback from co-workers and higher-ups. Away used the popular chat app Slack, which has the motto ‘where work happens.”  Away embraced Slack in more ways than one — its co-founder, Jen Rubio, is engaged to its CEO Stewart Butterfield — but it took things further than most startups. Employees were not allowed to email each other, and direct messages were supposed to be used rarely (never about work, and only for small requests, like asking if someone wanted to eat lunch). Private channels were also to be created sparingly and mainly for work-specific reasons, so making channels to, say, commiserate about a tough workday was not encouraged.

The rules had been implemented in the name of transparency, but employees say they created a culture of intimidation and constant surveillance. Once, when a suitcase was sent out with a customer’s incomplete initials stenciled onto the luggage tag, Korey said the person in charge must have been “brain dead” and threatened to take over the project.  Korey often framed her critiques in terms of Away’s core company values: thoughtful, customer-obsessed, iterative, empowered, accessible, in it together. Empowered employees didn’t schedule time off when things were busy, regardless of how much they’d been working. Customer-obsessed employees did whatever it took to make consumers happy, even if it came at the cost of their own well-being.

An example of that was the Slack message that Korey sent the day before Valentine’s Day in 2018, when she decided she was going to stop the team from taking any more time off. In a series of Slack messages that began at 3AM, she said, “I know this group is hungry for career development opportunities, and in an effort to support you in developing your skills, I am going to help you learn the career skill of accountability. To hold you accountable…no more [paid time off] or [work from home] requests will be considered from the 6 of you…I hope everyone in this group appreciates the thoughtfulness I’ve put into creating this career development opportunity and that you’re all excited to operate consistently with our core values.”  Four days later, when she noticed two managers still had time off on the calendar, she was livid. “If you all choose to utilize your empowerment to leave our customers hanging…you will have convinced me that this group does not embody Away’s core values,” she said.  In both cases, the emphasis was Korey’s.

Throughout, the article talks about how overworked the small customer team was in keeping up with customer emails and how responses from Away management (especially Korey) continued to drive and berate them.

Away indicated that the plan to change its CEO had been in the works for months.  For her part, Korey posted a message on Twitter last Friday (before the CEO announcement) admitting to her “mistakes” and promising that the company “will continue to work to improve.” As for those mistakes, she notes: “At times, I expressed myself in ways that hurt the team. … I was appalled and embarrassed reading [the messages]. … I’m sincerely sorry for what I said and how I said it. It was wrong, plain and simple.”

The follow-up article from The Verge that discussed Korey’s resignation also discussed the use of Slack as part of the story, noting that “executives may begin rethinking the use of Slack. The kind of type-first, think-later style of communication that it inspires is categorically different than email, the technology that preceded it in companies like Away.”

So, what does this article have to do with eDiscovery?  It illustrates how communications in organizations are changing these days.  While the communication policies at Away are an extreme example, they certainly illustrate how communication is about much more than email these days – communications with colleagues via text and other messaging apps like Skype and Slack are routine in organizations these days as those messages are often the quickest way to get a response versus wading through a sea of emails.  When it comes to emails and urgent communications, as Yogi Berra once said about a popular restaurant in New York, “nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”  And, all of that data is discoverable.

So, what do you think?  Does your organization use Slack or another messaging app for internal communications?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.  It’s never over ’til it’s over.  ;o)

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