The Downside of Having an Open Door Policy

We've grown up in a culture of leaders with "open door policies".  Besides the closely related concept of MBWA (managing by walking around), an open door policy is generally a good idea for the following reasons:

  • It promotes communication- it at least symbolizes that you don't despise people.  I know, pretty basic but still relevant.

  • It represents interest in the organization- you can leave at a moment's notice to plug into whatever else is going on in your workplace.

  • It represents accessibility- simply put, someone can speak with you easily.

Open door policies are what good leaders foster among their subordinates as well.  In a cascading effect, leaders model good behavior and then encourage it in their direct reports.

The catch of course, is that open door policies just might inhibit productivity.

Let me explain: in an effort to be open to dialogue and accessible to those around you, an open door policy can also be terribly distracting.  As you work in your office/cubicle/desk space, it's easy to be distracted by small elements around you.  These can include hall traffic, noise and pedestrian traffic.

But are these enough to ditch an open door policy altogether? Not so fast. If great leaders are those who are also productive, then it's imperative to know how to manage the small distractions that can eat away at working time.

Some easy things you can do to keep both an open door for parts of the day and manage alone-time include:

  1. Practice closed door working for parts of the day. It's ok to close up shop and focus for 30--60 minutes at a time.  Doing this several times during the day can boost productivity.

  2. Use noise-limiters to minimize distractions. If you want to work and keep an open door, using a sound limiter can be helpful.  I use Ambience for iPhone for various sounds of waves and bubbling brooks.  I even find that those who come into the office enjoy the sounds.

  3. Make appointments with yourself. Simply schedule time for you to work on something of value and excuse yourself or tell others that you have an appointment.  Simple as that.  Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to work on what you want to work on.

  4. Know your own physical limits. I know that I'm pretty useless from 12-2pm every day.  If I have to get some important work done, I zero in on the early morning.  In the afternoon, I'll spend time around campus visiting with students and their parents.  It's a good way to get some fresh air and stay productive in a non-office kind of way.

What strategies do you employ to maintain both an open door policy and sustained productivity?

*photo by sillygwailo