Semco Style & Remote Work: Trust as the Foundation

Many companies that are now remote or are shifting to fully-remote are unaware that to reap the benefits of such a structure they also need to default to trust. Trust, treating adults as adults, unfiltered transparency… these are not the tip of the proverbial iceberg, these are the massive chunk sitting below the surface, hard to see, but critical to the business's overall stability and balance.

Andy Golding·December 15, 2022·4 min read

This article is part of a series of articles exploring how the Semco Style can be used and applied in remote work and remote companies.


People are responsible adults at home. Why do we suddenly transform them into adolescents with no freedom when they reach the workplace? – Ricardo Semler Or, put differently, “Is this a workplace, or a boarding school?”.

For leaders and companies that default to trust, pushing power and decision-making authority back into the hands of their employees is the logical and most impactful thing to do (this is a workplace). For leaders and companies that default to distrust, holding onto all power and decision-making authority is the only sensible thing to do (this is a boarding school).

Check Your Trust Default Settings

Do you default to trust? Do you assume that people are capable and if left alone will get the job done on time and at a high standard? Or, do you default to distrust? Do you assume that people are not capable of getting the job done and that they will either slack off, log off or not get anything done if left to their own devices?

Your trust default settings will govern your approach to people management and organizational design regardless of what your employer branding, or company values page say.

Ricardo Semler knew instinctively that he needed to default to trust and instill a culture of defaulting to trust in Semco if his maverick ways of working were going to have the slightest shot at success. And that’s why trust is a foundational pillar of the Semco Style.

Many companies that are now remote or are shifting to fully-remote are unaware that to reap the benefits of such a structure they also need to default to trust. Some of the core benefits of remote work are the freedom and flexibility that employees have to blend their work and personal life in the way that best serves them. But fearing that employees may take advantage of these benefits, some companies are even installing extreme employee tracking and surveillance systems (more prison than boarding school, but in the same ballpark). Without trust, these remote practices can not work.

When trust is low, legacy processes and obsolete ways of working creep in that keep people in meetings all day, tethered to their computers with the (real or perceived) need to appear as ‘active’ or ‘online’. This fosters a culture of gratuitous presenteeism where people feel the need to spend extra hours online in a virtual attempt at ‘showing face’ or ‘showing how hard they are working’. Gratuitous presenteeism is the remote version of arriving first and leaving last from the office - it’s also a fast track to burnout.

Trust begets transparency and transparency begets trust.

In a remote environment, you’re not going to overhear snippets of important information at the coffee bar or have impromptu ‘FYI’ chats. Intentional, designed, and engineered transparency are critical. Semco calls this ‘unfiltered transparency’ and defines it as promoting a high level of openness and fairness. Treating adults as adults and sharing the truthful, hard and sometimes scary reality with them will go a long way in gaining their trust. It is also likely to unlock problem-solving prowess and creativity never before accessed in businesses where the leaders do the sovereign duty of thinking for everyone else. Treat adults as adults, they can handle the tough stuff, and they can help you find solutions.

A high-trust environment is one where people feel trusted, feel psychological safety, and that their teams and their leaders have their back. In this type of environment, people will not hide the truth, hide their mistakes or attempt to shirk responsibility. In high-trust environments, there are no lumps under rugs - just well-aired problems, frustrations, and issues that are solved by the collective wisdom of the team who feel safe and comfortable to share ideas and risk new things.

Trust, treating adults as adults, unfiltered transparency… these are not the tip of the proverbial iceberg, these are the massive chunk sitting below the surface, hard to see, but critical to overall stability and balance.



About the author: Andy Golding is the remote-work manager for SaaS procurement firm Sastrify. She is an author, TEDx speaker, and commentator on employee experience, ‘humans-at-work’, and all things remote work.

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