Like communication, transparency is a two-way street. In business, it can be measured by the extent that both workers and managers freely share information.  

In some cases, remote companies like Automattic have embraced an aggressive approach” to transparency, where few questions go unanswered internally. Beyond this are those from the Buffer school of thought, which has redefined transparency into a cultural tenet, extending access to the company’s salary and equity data, among other things, to the public at large.

Beneath it all is a desire to build trust, which is considered a competitive advantage both within organizations and in their dealings with customers. Companies with distributed employees or fully remote workforces have their own challenges with regard to transparency; many have developed or discovered approaches, however, that could serve as helpful case studies.

How Transparency Can Help Transform Remote Work

Tools of the Trade

An emerging remote work market has even developed software for the purpose of full transparency. Dashboards like Hubstaff are billed as productivity and time-tracking tools, but at their core is the issue of visibility from a distance.

“Remote work has become much easier now that there are so many tools to help teams stay connected and collaborate,” Brian de Haaff, co-founder and CEO of Aha! told Remote.co. The company, which makes product roadmap software, practices “eating its own dog food” as the Aha! Team uses its own product to plan and build.

“Since everyone is using the same tool, we have transparency into every aspect of the business. We can manage releases, prioritize features, crowdsource ideas, and assign to-dos. Anyone can see what their colleagues are working on. This builds trust and cuts down on confusion.”

Alice Hendricks, CEO of Jackson River, a services company that builds software for nonprofits, notes that the work of her teams is made more visible with the right tools.

“We do a weekly all-staff conference call, and the project teams have weekly calls, too,” Hendricks said.

“We manage our project work via a project management tool and documents on Google Drive, and we have an incredibly transparent culture so people can see each other’s work. All of these things ensure that we are present and that we help hold ourselves and each other accountable.”

A Culture Without Secrets

Allie VanNest, director of communications at Parse.ly, creator of an analytics platform for digital publishers, shares why remote teams have an advantage in terms of transparency.

“At Parse.ly, we believe that a distributed team is an asset, not a problem to be managed,” she said. “It allows for radical transparency about how we collaborate on projects together, and allows a ‘swarm’ mentality for solving problems. It also gives every employee the flexibility to work when and where they want to—without worrying they don’t have all the tools they need to be productive. It really allows the collective intellect of our employees to shine through in every decision.”

Crystal Clear Recruiting

Some companies are underscoring their company’s commitment to openness as early as the first stages of the hiring process.

Sten Tamkivi is co-founder and CEO of Teleport, a company that helps knowledge workers pick the right city to live and work in, worldwide.

“I’ve hired seven people to the company without meeting them in person,” he admits. “I guess that alone conveys something to them, but also we do practical things like test tasks during the process in a remote setting. We ask people to set deadlines and then deliver what they promised by them—often this reliability and transparency is even more important than the contents of trial work delivered in short time.”

Tom VanBuren, content manager at Edgar, maker of a social media scheduling tool, says the company’s approach to its culture is readily apparent when job candidates view vacancies.

“We’re completely transparent about our company values and culture in everything we do, including our actual job listings,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to have to wonder about what type of company culture we maintain, and our applicants frequently cite our culture as something that made them enthusiastic about applying!”

For Michael Krapf, chief fire officer at WooThemes, finding team members who also value openness is baked into the company’s interviewing process.

“It’s discussed thoroughly in the interviews and evaluated in an essay question: ‘In a remote/distributed work environment, what does Fun, Action, Communication, Transparency and Trust mean to you?’”

Engagement and Openness

Keeping employees engaged and feeling part of the bigger picture is critical in remote companies. Tabitha Colie, director of operations at Seeq Corporation, says transparency is encouraged in meetings with leadership.

“In addition to regular team group video conference sessions, as in our daily scrum meetings, we meet as a company once per week which we call our weekly team ‘tagup,’” she said. “During the tagup, which is led by our CEO, leaders from each key department in the company will give a brief overview of important news from their team. We strive for transparency, and people are encouraged to ask questions. Additionally, we have regular ‘meetups’ where we get teams together in person.”

Daniel Russell is the founder and CEO of Attentiv, a tool that enables workers to share their thoughts anonymously, in an effort to make sure everyone’s opinion is shared.

“A culture of transparency ensures that everybody is always on the same page, and we all know what our goals are,” Russell said. “A small team also means everybody has a hand in big events, whether it’s content going viral, an investor pitch, or a big marketing push. These are all big picture events, and we’re all very hands-on.”

Measuring Productivity

Sandra Lewis, founder and director of Worldwide101, shared that her team built a tool to track workers’ contributions, making productivity visible both internally and for the company’s clients.

“On a practical level, last year we built proprietary software, which allows our team to log their hours that they do for each of our clients,” Lewis said. “Our clients are able to login as well and see tasks that have been done on their account. This provides transparency and builds trust, and any issues about productivity and performance can be addressed more easily.”

Kate Kendall, founder and CEO of talent marketplace CloudPeeps, has put processes in place that keep the information flowing among its fully remote team.

“We place a strong emphasis on transparency, authenticity, and being direct,” Kendall said.

“We do monthly one-on-one feedback sessions, which we call ‘pair calls’ where we run through challenges, positive feedback and constructive areas to improve. These are non-hierarchical where openness and honesty is encouraged. It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO or the newest member of the team–we share how you can improve coming from a kind place.”

Adam Feber, director of marketing at Chargify, noted that the company actively encourages questions from its team members.

“One of the most common questions I get from people who work in more traditional offices is, ‘How do you know if people are actually working?’” he said. “We use a variety of tools and encourage everyone to reach out with questions at any time. It’s better to ask questions and get positive reassurance than to tackle a project blindly and risk not getting it right the first time.”

“Trust, communication, and transparency are key.”

How does transparency play into your remote work strategy? Let us know in the comments section below.