Transparentism

Based on my informal study of Glassdoor, a job site that hinges on current and former employees posting anonymous company reviews, there are a lot of people out there who feel their workplaces could stand to be more transparent.

I'd argue that, if transparency was something you could reliably measure, the standard deviation would actually be very low. Most companies probably have about the same amount of it, whether they know it or not, and the perceived acquisition and loss of it over time is not a cynical narrative about the concentration of power. Rather, transparency is a technology problem. In fact it's a problem of one particular technology.

I'll make you a bet, dear reader. I'll bet you that the companies whose employees most frequently cite transparency as a concern are also those that are the most culturally reliant on communicating internally via email.

So many of the emails you sent and received were never intended to be private or exclusive, but they ended up that way anyway. So much of their content wasn't deliberately being kept from people who weren't in the reply chain, but it felt that way anyway. A whole software paradigm (the intranet or corporate wiki) even sprung up to try to, well, it was the equivalent of printing out emails and putting them in a folder somewhere. Email's unrepentant users slowly hacked away at the technology to make it relevant and inclusive by overusing features like carbon copy and reply all, but all that did was create a progressively widening informational fog as your company grew.

Adapting to a tool like Slack or HipChat for internal communication increases employees' perception of transparency. You can lurk as other groups work, follow along as they make decisions, and cleanly opt in or out when it becomes TMI. It won't change the fact that big decisions still get made behind closed doors, though, so maybe the apt term is transparentism instead of transparency. Are you using Slack or HipChat but still feel in the dark? Well just imagine where you'd be without it.

Email was just a technology, but it had been with us so long that it became a naturalized, internalized fact that was somehow outside technology itself.