How to Make a Closed-Door Policy When You Have No Door

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One of the trickiest decisions for any manager is about when to have an open-door policy. That decision doesn’t get any easier when you don’t have a door!

The trend these days is for open-layout offices and work spaces, which often means managers don’t have a door to have a policy about — but they should. They should have a closed-door policy.

Managers need to focus at times, and so, even while sitting at your desk, you might let employees know that if you have headphones on, for example, you are trying to reduce interruptions as much as possible.

For decades, one of the management decisions that created the most attention for academics, HR, and management consultants was the decision to have an open-door policy:

  • On the one hand, managers needed to remain accessible to employees, and letting anyone walk in to talk about the burning issues of the moment means that problems get solved before they get any bigger, leading many to advocate an open-door policy.
  • On the other hand, managers needed to focus on long-range projects, and a steady stream of interruptions is a sure recipe for failure.

Those two points of view — both valid and both with strong evidence to back them up — can leave managers unsure of the best route.

Going With the Flow

Keeping an open-door policy has been a trendy recommendation in recent years, and for valid reasons. Take this article by Forbes, in which the author argues that such a policy, essential for good management, brings with it four advantages:

  • accessibility
  • open communication
  • fast information access
  • closer working relationships

Companies also trend toward open-door policies for high-level managers because problems can often be solved faster and before they get out of hand. That’s one reason why HP has not only implemented, but is actively advertising its policy to the general public via its website.

The open door becomes both literal and figurative: employees are made to feel like they’re a “part of the family” as an open-door policy “promotes a culture of friendly openness and builds a belief in others that the manager truly wants to be actively engaged with daily activities.”

That, in turn, leads to increased productivity and employee satisfaction.

Not Everything is Rosy

Of course, there are potential, and potentially serious, drawbacks to such a policy. In recent years, the open-door policy has increasingly turned toward the closed-door policy. That version often means managers are constantly available, and spend a significant amount of time on what employees consider to be serious issues, which may not be all that serious with the bigger picture in mind.

As the Small Business Chronicle notes, unconditional open-door policies also potentially create a dependence by employees who find it more convenient to ask for approval on every issue rather than making independent decisions. In that case, the company is harmed by a lack of decision-making ability, while employees ultimately harm their own professional development in being unwilling to make independent decisions.

So what point of view is correct? Ultimately, compromises have to be made.

Taking the doors away entirely, especially when no specific guidelines are implemented, can significantly impede managers working on long-term projects keeping the organization’s bigger picture in mind. At the same time, there’s a reason for the trend — taking the doors away means a more inclusive and friendly work environment.

The compromise is implementing signals in your organization that signal to employees when you can’t be disturbed. If your employees know that seeing you with your headphones on means you should be left alone, you’ll be more effective.

Maybe you can even implement a closed-door policy in which different signs or colors on your desk signify the degree to which you should be left alone. You could also just schedule your time using your internal calendar system to indicate that you are working on a project or that you are in an “office hours” time.

Just train your employees to look at your calendar before stopping by your desk to chat. They’ll understand.

In the end, it’s all about walking the fine line between keeping an open door and shutting yourself in. For the good of your organization as well as your sanity, making a closed-door policy about when you should be left alone can go a long way.


Open Door Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "How to Make a Closed-Door Policy When You Have No Door" was first published on Small Business Trends



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