Programming note: I promised you a special report this week; it’s now scheduled for early next week. Journalism!
As I wrote in that newsletter
, an emerging focus for The Interface
this year has been the way that tech companies govern their employees — and the way that the tools they use, such as Slack, enable surveillance that goes both ways.
On one hand, CEO Steph Korey fired several employees after reading their messages in a channel that LGBT employees had started as a place to discuss workplace issues. On the other, Korey’s 3AM Slack messages in which she promised, with great condescension, “to help [employees] learn the career skill of accountability” — by banning paid time off — told the story of her management style better than any anecdote could.
Away CEO Steph Korey is stepping down, just four days after an investigation from The Verge
highlighted the company’s toxic culture. Korey, one of the luggage brand’s co-founders, will be replaced with former Lululemon executive Stuart Haselden, though she will still continue on as executive chairman.
The news comes after days of public backlash due to leaked documents showing Korey routinely intimidated employees on public Slack channels. After The Verge
’s initial story broke, new leaks showed Away was directing employees
not to engage with the article even from their personal social media accounts.
Away gave an exclusive on the news to the Wall Street Journal
, where the company’s president had this to say about the timing of the news:
“In light of the article, it’s been a difficult few days for the company,” said Ms. Rubio. “But we don’t want that to overshadow this announcement.”
For a bunch of takes on the Away drama, here’s a fun roundup
from an anonymous tech gadfly, who asked founders, venture capitalists, and journalists to weigh in on the situation anonymously. It’s an unusually polarizing story. VCs love seeing the kind of hustle that Korey embodied — those 10x returns aren’t coming from the founders who don’t work weekends! — and many commentators offered unspecified reports of having “seen worse.” (For a certain mysterious subset of Twitter, journalism is only justified in instances where whatever is being written about is the worst thing that the writer has ever seen.)
Once Korey resigned, the early contrarian wisdom — that there is nothing to see here — dissipated. It was quickly replaced with “Away has clearly been planning to change its CEO for months
.” I’m certainly willing believe that Away didn’t make this decision over the weekend. But keep in mind that Away has known that this story has been coming for along time. The suggestion that all of this was part of a natural planned succession, rather than a crisis intervention, beggars belief.
But enough of my aggrieved score-settling. One aspect of this story that continues to interest me personally is how 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. And while Slack has long had its critics, the fact that a CEO has now resigned over her Slack messages feels like a new milestone in changing opinion about the company.
Slack is very useful at a publication like The Verge, where speed is a cardinal virtue. But the other edge of that sword can cut very deeply, especially for demanding and impolitic bosses. Until now, it’s been easy to think of Slack as “neutral platform.” But if there’s one thing that this newsletter has chronicled more than any other subject, it’s how no communications platform is ever truly neutral.
Whether it’s Facebook, YouTube, or Slack, every platform offers different incentives (and disincentives) to its user base. Every platform offers avenues for abuse. Every platform is full of dangers that don’t seem obvious at all, until they’re too late.
Steph Korey just found that out the hard way. And I suspect she won’t be the last CEO who wishes she had used Slack differently — or, perhaps, not at all.