Ten small ways to work more openly

What you can do when your org isn’t set up for open sharing

Ten small ways to work more openly
Photo by Katerina Pavlyuchkova on Unsplash

In the BC Government, working in the open is a buzz phrase that’s been around for a few years but is starting to gain more prominence now that it’s part of our Digital Code of Practice.

But what is working in the open? Public Digital has a great blog post on it where they define it clearly:

“Working in the open means showing people the work you are doing, as you’re doing it. At a minimum this should be people within your team and people across your organisation. Even better is sharing publicly, with stakeholders outside your organisation who have an interest.”

The benefits of working in the open are immense. Here are just a few:

  • It leads to better services and products, because there’s more feedback, and also it helps various team members learn from each other and develop their skills.
  • It makes a workplace more inclusive and equitable: people don’t need to know someone or have specific connections to find information when it’s openly available
  • It saves time and money because it means people don’t have to keep solving the same problems over and over again in isolation, and it’s easier to find information without burdening someone’s time
  • It builds trust in your organization which increases your impact and also makes your org more attractive to potential talent.

It’s not always easy to work in the open …

I want to acknowledge something that I hear from others and sometimes experience myself: Many orgs aren’t set up to work openly. Things like IT policies, communication guidelines and lack of access to compliant sharing platforms can make working in the open more difficult. It shouldn’t feel like breaking the rules.

If you feel like you’d like to work more openly but aren’t sure how, I’m going to list some small ways that we all can work more transparently, to create a greater culture of openness and transparency, within the rules or our orgs.

  1. Always ask, could this email be a message on an open communication channel? Should this private message live somewhere everyone can see it? The next time you go to ask a question over email or in a closed teams chat, consider asking it in an open channel — even if it’s to a specific person!— so that everyone can benefit from the answer.
  2. Ask the question you worry will make you look dumb. What does that acronym we always use actually mean? What did you mean when you said [jargony buzzword]? Ask it even if you know the answer!! There are two reasons for this: 1) it helps everyone in the room, including the new person who might be too afraid to ask and 2) it forces whoever is talking to think about using simpler language.
  3. Change your calendar settings so people can see what meetings you are in (this is called “calendar permissions” in outlook.) Little things like this helps build the sense that we value transparency over secrecy. Also, I’ve had people reach out and say, “I see you’re in a meeting for _____, that sounds cool, is it open to others?” You can still mark anything personal as private if you really need to.
  4. Attend or set up daily standup meetings / sprint reviews / show and tells. Just 15 minutes a day with colleagues talking about what you are doing can help you and others feels connected, and increases transparency. If your team doesn’t have this — maybe you should set it up or suggest it to your team.
  5. Share something cool on Teams channels, LinkedIn, Twitter, Rocketchat or Slack, and tag a colleague who is involved or might be interested. Join a government slack group and contribute to conversations. In Canada, anyone working in government can access the Canadian Government Digital Connections slack and the International Gov Design slack.
  6. Share your work, even when (especially when?) it’s unfinished. Ask for feedback, share something cool you found, or just put it out there. It gets more eyes on your work, and also helps others feel more confident to share their imperfect work.
  7. Make sure you have content and links in public, searchable, findable places. Pretend you know nothing about what you’re doing and practice googling or searching your intranet for your work. For example, when I started working on the BC Gov Design Community, I listed it on digital.gov.bc.ca as well as our internal intranet, to ensure people could find us without having to ask me.
  8. Store things in team or open folders (like your team’s sharepoint site rather than your own onedrive.) I’m a bit fuzzy on how these things work in BC Gov, but the point is, put some thought into where your work is stored and who can (and can’t) access it.
  9. Write weeknotes. Even if you don’t feel comfortable writing public weeknotes, write internal ones that you can go back to, or share with a few trusted colleagues. This helps you practice transparency and writing, it builds up your courage to share more widely, and it’s also really useful when you’re trying to track your work down the road.
  10. Be generous with your feedback, positive and constructive. Both types of feedback go a long way to building a culture of psychological safety, where people feel comfortable speaking up. And every comment, question or reflection is an opportunity to spark a discussion.

I will add only one word of caution: Be respectful and mindful of others — Don’t share openly on behalf of other people. Be very careful not to reveal things that might cause harm to others or deepen inequity.

But beyond that — please don’t let self-doubt keep you from sharing openly. If no one reads it, if it feels like a waste of time, keep going. We all have so much to learn from you, and everyone will benefit from your willingness to be transparent and open.

Author: Martha Edwards, Service Design Lead with the Exchange Lab.