Fundamental qualities of a truly transparent office culture - Fast Company

Jun 2, 2022

Transparency is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days—one that many leaders find mystifying. How can you even tell whether you’re being transparent enough? Why exactly is it so important right now?

I’d like you to imagine this scenario: You’re seated comfortably on a plane, ready to ascend. Only, you’re not given any information about safety protocols or how long the trip will take. Then upon departure, things start getting a bit turbulent, the plane begins to shake—and yet, there’s no reassuring words from the pilot about whether it’s just a momentary agitation or something major to worry about. Without any updates, you’re left to envision the worst. Suddenly, every small jolt feels terrifying.

To put this into a workplace context: Without transparency, people feel unsafe—a feeling particularly heightened by the hyper-vigilance of the past two years.

Transparency is key as work forces continue to adjust to disruption. Whether your company is transitioning to go back to offices or remaining on a hybrid work plan, now is the time to over-communicate with employees.

A workforce in transition requires openness

“Transparency is going to have to be the defining theme for communication throughout the rest of the pandemic and beyond,” writes Fast Company contributor, Dustin York.

It’s safe to say, people are still on edge from the pandemic. As the recent omicron variant taught us, we can’t let our guard down. It’s up to us as leaders to set the pace for what transparency will look like—and a large part of that involves providing clear information and reassurance on a regular basis. A 2021 Gartner survey found that “only 33% of organizations practice true information transparency, even though nearly 70% of employees said that they would take one job offer over another based on the organizations’ transparency practices.”

It’s a high enough statistic for companies to really consider what “transparency” truly means and maintain it as an ongoing practice.

Part of keeping dialogues open with your team is to being consistent with your communication. On a regular basis, share new challenges, policies, and protocols with your team in an open. It can encourage your people to express their thoughts and ask questions.

At my form-building company, when we have new information to divulge in an upcoming meeting, we make sure to state what it’s about upfront and share the main points beforehand to ease people’s anxieties. It’s my belief that company leadership should keep employees clued in to what’s going on and keep them informed about any steps being taken sooner rather than later.

Determine how to communicate without barriers

Last year, we released a new product with the hope of allowing for more seamless collaboration between teams. It’s a tool that lets people collaborate in a powerful all-in-one workspace. Many companies understand the importance of creating systems that improve productivity, but fail to foster a culture of communication avenues that also allows information to flow freely between people.

According to a guide developed by UC Berkeley, it’s crucial we share news of what we know the moment we know it, regardless of whether we have all the answers. “Clarify that information can change, and when it does, update them as soon as you know it.”

Remember, transparency in the workplace is about taking accountability and eliminating ambiguity. Tech-based platforms like using asynchronous email, blogs, and Slack channels empower employees to rapidly gain access to new information so they can make better decisions.

Offer one-on-one feedback

As with the plane metaphor described above, transparency is about alleviating fears. And, in your organization, you are the pilot that needs to keep dialogues open. With a workforce in transition, I don’t believe generic communication is enough. It’s always been important for me to develop one-on-one relationships with my team.

At my company, we’re fortunate to have our San Francisco office located near the beautiful Embarcadero, which is a three-mile-long seawall where people can engage and listen thoughtfully. I’ve found that providing employees with personalized feedback during a walk helps relieve their stress and clears the mind.

It also gives me a chance to gauge their concerns about any changes taking place. According to researchers at Harvard Business Review, taking a stroll can stoke more vulnerability. They write: “Plenty of anecdotal evidence also suggests that walking meetings lead to more honest exchanges with employees and are more productive than traditional sit-down meetings.”

Of course, a walking meeting won’t be the right approach for employees working from home. In this case, it’s not the location that matters most, but regularly cultivating that one-on-one connection. Having a lunch meeting over Zoom, for example, isn’t only a more informal way to communicate, it gives you the opportunity for more open and honest feedback in a way that inspires trust.

At the end of the day, trust and transparency go hand-in-hand. You can only successfully develop both when one of your priorities as a leader is building relationships.

Aytekin Tank is the founder and CEO of Jotform, a leading online forms SaaS solution.

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