Manage Your Office Door

Seth Godin’s wrote a great post titled “Goodbye to the Office“; challenging conventional thought about the traditional office environment.  I can certainly see his point.  It’s one of the reasons I’m writing at Workshifting blog and am involved in social media.  The development of the freelance economy along with the technology tools at our fingertips could make the traditional office obsolete.

But eliminating offices is about more than just not renewing a lease.  In order to be successful, it’s about training managers how to engage and manage a virtual workforce.  And it’s about employees being accountable and managing themselves.  Until those things start becoming a major part of the equation, my prediction is the office will still be around.

Not because we need the office space, but because we don’t know how to operate without it.

Anyhoo, Seth’s post reminded me of my previous offices.  My first office was a cubicle assigned to me when it’s previous occupant employee was downsized.  It was such an uncomfortable feeling – on one hand, I was excited to have my first office and on the other was the guilt and paranoia of how the office came to be mine.  Even though I didn’t have anything to do with the person leaving.

After that, I didn’t give offices much thought.  I just always assumed I would have an office.

Then I went to work for a company where offices were where “good news happened.”  Conference rooms were where people got fired.  You can imagine the reaction I got when I once suggested have a working lunch in the conference room.  Someone kindly took me aside and explained that we don’t have meetings in the conference room.  That’s where employees are disciplined.  Lucky for me, the HR team was willing to help me give the conference room a public relations campaign. We started holding our meetings in there and eventually turned the perception around.

One of the craziest office environments I worked in was a corporation where no one could have a door on their office.  They were trying to send the message that they lived and breathed the open door environment.  What a debacle.  It didn’t take long to realize that corporate counsel needed to have a door.  Once they got a door, slowly other people got doors.  Half of corporate had doors; the other half didn’t.  Talk about corporate double-speak…sigh.

In my last corporate job, we did a pseudo version of hotelling.   Everyone had a laptop and just worked wherever there was space.  You could share an office with someone you needed to collaborate with or set up space alone if you had appointments.  It was very convenient and allowed the company to lease less office space without completely eliminating it.   I wouldn’t be surprised if more businesses don’t explore this concept.

But the lesson I’ve learned along the way is it’s not about having an office or cubicle.  It’s about being approachable.  If you want to be approachable, then you have to learn how to manage your door.

Use it when you need to.  Obviously, confidential conversations are door closed moments.

Leave it open otherwise.  No one was allowed to screen people who wanted to see me.  Just walk right in.  And I would invite the senior leadership team to come visit me.  I had bosses who loved to hang out in my office (and eat jelly beans.)

Recognize unspoken messages.  I found closing my door sometimes sent the unspoken message “something’s up.”  On one hand, that can be a good thing.  And on the other, it might cause alarm when it’s not necessary.

The debate about office space is just starting but one thing is for certain.  Don’t let your office door manage you.

Image courtesy of Ann at Picasaweb