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Before Covid-19, my office door was always open to my team. Whether someone stopped by to get a question answered or for a quick chat, it was important for me to be accessible.
Fast forward to post-pandemic times, where many employees work remotely. After decades of running my business, I faced a new leadership challenge: how to maintain an “open-door policy” when not all team members are physically in the office.
What is an open-door policy?
Typically, an open-door policy is a work environment where employees are encouraged to share job-related ideas, worries, feedback and opinions with their superiors — without fear of recrimination or condemnation. However, it’s up to you to decide what an open-door policy looks like in your business. Like most business policies, the concept runs from a literal open door where employees are always welcome to interrupt with any issue to making yourself available only during predetermined hours.
In my experience, the reality lies somewhere between — the point is to encourage communication between management and staff. There are five vital parts to making your open-door policy a success, whether your employees are in the office or working remotely.
Part 1: Actions, not words
Just put a sign outside of your office saying, “My door is always open,” said no successful leader ever. Proclaiming yourself an “open-door” boss is not enough to encourage communication. And the demeanor of so many bosses makes it clear that feedback is unwelcome. Approachability and active listening send the right signals to your team — and not physically being in the office should never seem like a detriment to remote workers.
The success of an open-door policy is a measure of trust between employees and their bosses, and you can be sure workers look for signs that their words are being heard and valued. Whether you’re communicating in person or over video chat, it’s crucial to face the speaker, watch for non-verbal clues, and make consistent eye contact.
Furthermore, don’t interrupt or form your response while the person is still talking. Let your remote employees know you’re available over video chat, instant message, email, and phone for discussions, and never make them wait too long to get a response — even if it’s just to set up a time to chat in the future.
Part 2: Reaching out
It’s essential to get up and out of your office. If you’re sitting at our desk waiting for employees to come to you with their concerns and ideas, you may be waiting a long time.
In most workplaces, there are both outspoken and timid employees. The former will likely be comfortable approaching you, but the latter may feel apprehensive. It’s your responsibility to make it clear that you’re available and open to listening. Proactively reaching out sends a positive message about your business’s communication culture and makes employees feel valued and appreciated, which is critical to employee retention.
You obviously can’t run into your virtual staff, so consider creating an optional “Ask Me Anything” hour once or twice a month for all employees. This isn’t yet another Zoom meeting. Don’t prepare a set agenda, but don’t let it turn into a gabfest or complaint hour, either. It may take a bit of getting used to, but it’s a good way for you to available to your staff without taking up most of your day.
Part 3: Setting boundaries
Many business owners make a mistake with their open-door policies by being too approachable. Some employees want to overshare and talk about their own personal matters or, worse, gossip about other employees. Yes, your door should always be open, but limiting personal conversations is vital to ensure everyone stays productive.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t ask how their families are doing or bring up personal topics, such as asking about a recent move to a new home. And if you have a shared passion, like a favorite sports team or actor, mentioning a recent game or their latest movie is an excellent way to bond with your staff.
Part 4: Follow-up to ensure success
Once you’ve implemented these policies, it’s critical to monitor and measure the progress and outcomes. Are you and your staff communicating openly? Are your employees comfortable asking you questions, making suggestions, and acting like a cohesive team? How’s company morale? Do your remote workers feel included? Do your people feel respected, trusted and valued?
It’s your responsibility to make sure that your door (physical or virtual) stays open.
Part 5: Act with kindness
While staying productive is vital and perhaps more challenging in a hybrid office, it’s equally important to make your employees feel that they matter to you. Having an open-door policy is not enough; it’s crucial to treat your employees with kindness and create an ideal company culture where they feel valued and heard.
According to The Future of Time 2022: Redefining Productivity During Uncertainty report recently released by Adobe, employees prefer to work in a “purpose-driven culture that prioritizes the values of support and well-being.”
Maintaining an open-door policy shows your staff you’re there to support them and helps establish a work culture where employees want to work and thrive for a long time.