when transparency breaks trust

transparency for teams and leaders is different, here's why

Today I am thinking about transparency and trust, so let's have a conversation!

Yes, I know it's “that old chestnut again”; however, I want to approach it differently than we typically do, so bear with me.

Since we established remote:af three years ago, the world of work has undergone a profound transformation, with remote work (whether it be hybrid or fully remote) being the norm rather than the exception. As that change continues to redefine the workplace, the concepts of transparency and trust have taken on greater significance than ever before.

I say this as someone who has the great fortune of collaborating with a variety of those organisations, their leaders, and teams from all over the world that have made or are making the transition to remote work.

When I talk about transparency and trust in organisations, whether they are leaders or teams, the regular themes of objection appear.

From leaders:

  • You agile people and consultants say we have to be transparent about everything. We get it, but our organisational policy and even legislation won’t let us be 
  • This remote work causes a lack of transparency; if they were in-person like before, we wouldn’t have these problems

From teams:

  • Our leaders are never available, and they don’t really tell us what their expectations are 
  • We are expected to take feedback, but we don’t get to provide it back
  • We don’t really know why we are working on the things we do, and there is no real ownership; our leaders have to decide everything
  • We get work done; we’d get more done if we didn’t have to spend time in meetings about what we’ve done or are doing

So, as you can see, right there is the transparency and trust paradox.

I said I was going to approach this differently, and I am! I want to look at how we improve this from both points of view and see what we get. You see, despite the issues and objections surrounding transparency and trust in remote work, I believe it's important to keep in mind that it's a two-way street. In order to promote a culture of trust in remote work settings, both employers and employees have roles to play. It’s all too easy to add it solely to the leadership's remit.

The Leader's Perspective:

 Setting the Tone for Transparency and Trust

  • Leaders, you play a pivotal role in establishing a culture of transparency and trust. There's no getting away from that, and let's be really clear: that’s the same in person or in a remote setting
  • Embrace this and be very clear on your expectations, both for yourself and your teams; give them the okay to hold you accountable if you're not meeting the mark
  • Acknowledge what you are struggling with and work with the team to agree on how you deal with this. This fosters an environment where team members feel safe doing the same and have a sense of ownership

Practise Practical Transparency

  • Be practical about what you can be transparent about. If you can’t share certain information, then be upfront about what you can’t be transparent about. Teams get it; they know there are just some things you can’t convey; if you actually don’t know, tell them that as well; they respect honesty
  • Being clear and consistent with your communication is the cornerstone of trust in remote teams. Ensure that all team members are on the same page regarding goals, objectives, and priorities, progress, team performance, and company developments
  • Work with your team. Agree on what you can communicate async vs. what is really needed in a synchronous setting and what medium you will use

Empowered Autonomy 

  • You might wonder what this has to do with transparency. In short, empowered autonomy requires trust, transparency of information, and clear guide-rails to be successful.
  • Empowered autonomy also begets transparency, born out of a sense of ownership and accountability 

Feedback and Recognition

  • Feedback is a two-way street. You should regularly provide constructive feedback to help team members grow while also being open to receiving feedback yourself. The second part is challenging; however, I know from leaders who have embraced the practice that they will never go back because of the insights it provides.
  • Regular check-ins and performance discussions should be done transparently, with a focus on development rather than critique. We hear a lot about people not performing in remote settings; to me, this is no different from performing in office settings. I could dig deeper here; however, this is a topic that my colleague John Tooth will expand on in newsletters to come.


The Team's Perspective:

I want to reiterate here that you as teams have a role to play here; it’s not one-way traffic.

Autonomy and Accountability

  • Autonomy is a double-edged sword and comes with accountability built in. Approach it with transparency for your decisions, work, commitments, and progress; ultimately, this enables the trust of your leaders.


  • Work environments can change rapidly in today’s fast-paced working environment (let alone remote work environments). As a team, this requires you to be adaptable. Being transparent and flexible in adjusting to change and challenges enables your leaders to lean in and make decisions, as well as provide support.

Setting the tone

  • As much as your leaders have a responsibility to set the tone for transparency and trust, you too have a part to play in doing so. Demonstrate openness and a commitment to being transparent; your behaviour will influence others to do the same

Embrace flexibility with boundaries.

  • Remote work often blurs the lines between professional and personal life. There is discipline required here; remote work offers a great opportunity and flexibility for work-life balance. The word balance here is the key; at the end of the day, you are still employed to do a job. Work with your leader, establish the boundaries and guide-rails, and respect what is required. Flexibility is essential; however, it should not come at the cost of overburdening yourself or eroding trust due to unpredictable availability. (Now, before you get the pitchforks out, I am not saying this is the norm; however, it does happen, so it is best to agree on what works before the damage is done and no one gets to work remotely.)

My last thoughts on this: 

In the evolving landscape of remote work, transparency and trust are invaluable. Leaders and team members alike must work together to actively cultivate these elements to foster a successful remote work environment. By setting the tone, communicating openly, empowering autonomy, providing feedback, and being honest about challenges, leaders can build trust within their teams. Simultaneously, team members can contribute by practising open communication, building relationships, embracing accountability, and being adaptable.

Ultimately, the remote work experience is a shared journey. When leaders and teams work together to prioritise transparency and trust, you can overcome challenges, maximise productivity, and create a workplace where leaders, teams and ultimately the organisation thrive.

I hope this one gets you thinking. Got some thoughts on this article? Something I missed or you’d like to add? We’d love to hear from you! You can drop us a line at info@remoteaf.co