In a blog post published on Sept 27, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong announced that his company would strive for a neutral or apolitical workplace.
The post started off noting that it’s been a “difficult year,” a nod to the global pandemic, shelter in place policies, social unrest, and the west coast wildfires. In response to all that, Armstrong, never one to shy away from making a public stance, decided to share his plan for leading one of crypto’s legacy companies during such times.
This plan includes “playing like a championship team,” corporate shorthand for things like sustaining high performance, engendering trust, being “company-first,” and collectively sacrificing to achieve an objective.
But the core of Armstrong’s plan can be boiled down to two points, “broader societal issues: we don’t engage here when issues are unrelated to our core mission” and, “political causes: we don’t advocate for any particular causes or candidates internally that are unrelated to our mission.”
In being obsessively “mission-focused,” Coinbase is aiming to avoid distractions and anything that might contribute to internal strife.
As Armstrong put it,
“While I think these efforts [activism] are well-intentioned, they have the potential to destroy a lot of value at most companies, both by being a distraction and by creating internal division.”
Such statements are opposed to what many companies in the U.S. have done in response to, for example, the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Coinbase’s announcement was all but guaranteed to be controversial, and it was, unsurprisingly, met with polarized opinions:
— Paul Graham (@paulg) September 28, 2020
concerning the coinbase "at work we expect principally a focus on work" drama, some of you have only ever had a job talking about your feelings on the internet and it shows
— Mike Solana (@micsolana) September 28, 2020
Coinbase announced that it stands for nothing beyond profits and if you’ve got a problem with that you should go work somewhere else
— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) September 28, 2020
Venture capitalist Chris Burniske also weighed in tweeting a thread voicing the opinion that Coinbase’s policy is against the spirit of decentralization and concluding, “2020 is too important to say nothing. Talk politics. Vote. Govern the #USA.”
So there you have it, two sides of the divide. While opinions on Coinbase’s policy update differ, one thing is clear: implementing a policy that discourages people from expressing views on issues core to their identities could prove to be a difficult balancing act.
As one respondent to the blog post put it, “working at a software company, especially a crypto one, is inherently political, no matter how hard you try to do the mental gymnastics around that.”