Do you have an open-door policy at your office?
I do, but mine’s more like an open floor policy. Our company works on an open layout plan. Everyone sits out on the same floor with teams groups of threes. I’m included in one of those groups, too. I don’t retreat to a private office. I sit and work alongside everyone. Subsequently, I am easy to reach and approached by various team members throughout the course of each day with questions and thoughts.
Prior to our current location, we worked in a slightly more traditional space where I had my own office. I worked in it, but always kept the door open. I would only close it if I was in a meeting. This, of course, is not the case for most businesses. Upper management often falls back on squirreling away inside of an office. This makes it a little harder to communicate because the act of closing the door makes it difficult to approach someone. The more days that pass where the door remains closed, the less likely employees are to reach out.
It’s time to open that door. If you don’t already have an open-door policy established at your workplace, here’s what you can do now to ease it into practice.
1. Establish boundaries.
An open-door policy cannot work if you and your team are not on the same page about where you are throughout the day. Communicate the times of day where you will be there and available to meet or quickly chat with. Make sure everyone knows when you might be out for lunch, the time you tend to arrive to the office, and when you may have a conflict that keeps you from meeting with an employee. Do this for every day of the week, too. As much as you need to know where your team members are, they should have an understanding of where you are and where you’re going as well.
2. Listen up.
When you have a team member coming into your office to speak with you, listen to what they have to say. It sounds simple enough, but you would be surprised (or not) at the distractions around us that prevent this from happening. Turn off or put your computer to sleep, tuck your smartphone out of sight, and shut the door once the employee has arrived. Listen and give them your full attention. If, for whatever reason something should come up at the last minute, reschedule within a 24 hour time period. This shows your employee that you are not ignoring their needs and plan to resolve any issues promptly.
3. Understand the value of time.
This rule applies to both the employee and boss for any open-door policy. Stay on topic. Don’t get distracted with unrelated, irreverent tangents. If necessary, let the team member know upfront that the conversation will have a hard stop. A hard stop is basically a time’s up period, allotting a certain amount of time to complete a task before ending to move on with the day.
4. Don’t take advantage of the open-door policy.
Let’s say the open-door policy is alive and well and you are at your boss’s door daily asking for help or advice. Maybe not even daily — hourly. Don’t abuse what is being used. As a team member, step back and ask yourself if you need to physically come to your boss to answer every question. Maybe you can communicate through email or Slack instead. Or, you might want to take initiative to find a solution to the problem with the help of a coworker. The bottom line is that if you are turning the open-door policy into a no-door policy, then neither you nor your boss can get anything done. Make sure you know your limits for a successful open-door policy to work in everyone’s favor.
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services. You can find MyCorporation on Twitter at @MyCorporation.