Open door policies: Striking the balance between availability and productivity

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What does your attitudes to keeping your office door open or closed say about your management style? This article explores differences between open-door and closed-door attitudes.

Door always open

An open-door policy involves physically (or potentially metaphorically) leaving your door open, making it easy for others to stop by and discuss issues at hand. Having your door open is a strong signal of your willingness to talk with others. If it is open it is easy for people to stick their heads through the door and talk (potentially briefly) about an issue that they have at hand. Avoiding the need for formalized meetings helps ensure that the smaller day-to-day tasks, that may not be important enough to justify a full meeting, are taken care of. 

While an open-door policy can be a great way of getting feedback from others, it also comes with some limitations:

  • The time that taken by drop-in meetings: An open-door policy can encourage drop-in conversations about small issues – potentially things that you needn’t actually be involved in, or the other person could find out directly themselves. Being too available can result in your time suddenly getting consumed by meetings. 
  • The distraction of others coming by: Beyond the time that is taken up by impromptu meetings, there is also the distraction of having to stop work to deal with an issue at hand. If it becomes too frequent, people coming by can make it difficult to achieve your primary role, with the constant need to switch to other issues.
  • Noise from outside our office: As well as the time and distraction associated with others coming by, there is the possibility that keeping your door open results in further distractions from conversations in a connected corridor

Door always closed

A closed-door policy – where you physically keep your door shut – is one way of cutting back on these distractions. Potentially you require others to schedule meetings or at least knock on your door. Having some separation, making it slightly more difficult for others to pop in can help reduce the flow of people coming by to discuss their issues (or generally have a chit-chat). 

A compromise: Open part of the day

A compromise between an open door and closed-door policy is to define parts of the day where you will be available and parts of the day where your door is closed signaling that you want to press on with a specific task. Such times could be defined each day (potentially even formalized with employees knowing when they can and can’t come by), or more flexible – closing the door when you have tasks to do, and then opening it when you have more free time to talk with others. 

Final thoughts: Being open to talk to is more than just keeping your door open

While the decision that you make about keeping your office door open or closed may convey signals of your attitudes towards people popping by, it is only part of the story. Being available and welcoming is more than just keeping your door open. It is also important that you treat others as being welcome.

There are lots of subtle signals given out about how open you are to gain feedback from others – how you respond to feedback and whether you go on to make adaptions based on suggestions.