• Employees of luggage startup Away were reportedly fired after complaining about their company in a secret Slack channel, according to a new report from The Verge.
  • The Verge investigation describes a “cutthroat culture” at Away, where employees’ activity in workplace messaging threads was closely monitored.
  • Bosses also reportedly used Slack to berate employees who were deemed to be underperforming, which a worker said was “like having your pants pulled down in front of the company.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

It’s the stuff of nightmares for digital-first office workers: A group of employees form a private messaging channel and vent about their jobs. Their bosses find out about the channel and read the messages. The employees are disciplined, and some are subsequently fired.

That’s exactly what happened to former employees of the luggage startup Away, according to a new investigation by The Verge, which cites 14 former employees who describe a “cutthroat culture” in the office.

Like many other digital-oriented companies, employees at Away reportedly communicate using Slack, an instant-messaging platform designed for the workplace. Slack allows users to interact in public channels, which anyone can see, as well as private channels that require an invite.

Away’s office culture was exceptionally Slack-centric, according to the report. Employees were reportedly banned from using email to communicate with one another (Away cofounder Jen Rubio is also engaged to Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield). Workers were also reportedly discouraged from using private channels on Slack, instead urged to post all messages in public channels.

Bosses would reportedly provide feedback – at times harsh criticism – in public Slack channels, regularly lambasting employees in rants that one source said was “like having your pants pulled down in front of the company.”

Exasperated workers at Away reportedly formed a private channel called #Hot-Topics, where they complained about their jobs and negative interactions with bosses. Many of the channels users were reportedly queer employees and employees of color, who used the channel to vent about subtle bigotry they faced on the job.

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Then, one day, employees saw CEO Steph Korey’s name appear in the Slack channel. One former employee told The Verge that the next day, Korey called people who were using the channel into her office and berated them. Some were subsequently fired.

In a statement to Business Insider, a spokesperson for Away said the employees were fired for “conduct that was against company policy” beyond merely using a private slack channel.

Korey has defended the company’s Slack policies, saying in a statement to The Verge that were intended to prevent exclusion.

“Slack affords levels of inclusion and transparency email simply doesn’t. With email the original author gets to pick who is included in the conversation and whose voices won’t be heard. That’s not the company we want,” Korey said.

Read The Verge’s full report on Away’s office culture here.