When A Closed-Door Policy Is A Good One

For many years, business strategists and innovators touted the success of an open-door policy.

In fact, it’s become routine for inner-office designs to be laid out in an open-plan scheme.

Often, a culture of openness and accessibility—especially in the field of law, where its rigid hierarchical structure can breed favoritism—improves productivity. An “open-door” policy is popular with bosses who hope to mentor their subordinates in an welcoming, non-domineering way.

So, when is a closed-door policy a good one?

Take, for instance, Jordan Cohen’s story about a business trip to London, as described in the Harvard Business Review blog:

“Last Monday I took the red-eye to London. My week had been tightly scheduled months in advance, to ensure the most efficient use of my time on the ground once I landed. Arriving at Heathrow I whizzed through to the BA arrivals lounge to eat, shower and change in preparation for my morning’s meetings.

After my shower I opened my suitcase to get dressed. One problem: no suit pants. In fact: no lower-body covering of any kind, other than the rumpled jeans I’d just slept in.

The next 90 minutes were spent rescheduling that morning’s engagements, juggling the effect on meetings later in the week, and navigating the complex maze of gentleman’s clothing stores in Central London before emerging with a suitable pair of trousers.

This unexpected diversion to Jermyn Street really bugged me. I’m a frequent traveler — how could I have gotten on a transatlantic flight with no pants? What caused this unexpected absent-mindedness?

I reviewed Sunday afternoon’s chain of events. As I had been packing, I remembered that I was interrupted by a request from my daughter to help her with her homework. Twenty minutes of geometry later, I finished packing and zipped up my suitcase. My pants never made it in. While I traversed London, they hung on the back of my door where I’d left them, waiting to be packed.”

Mr. Cohen goes on to explain that interruptions—especially welcome distractions, like the one from his daughter—derail a person’s productivity.

It’s true that our daily lives are constantly battling the many throws of disruptive technology, cell phones, emails, Facebook status updates, RSS feed alerts, instant messaging, in-person visits, to name a few.

When you add them up, the time away from work is substantial. Not only that, returning to work after such distractions becomes more difficult. And, prone to error.

Mr. Cohen has come up with a few ways to minimize distractions, stay proactive at managing time, and increase his individual productivity. His suggestions can be found here, along with the rest of his article.

However, it’s possible to add one more idea to his distraction-minimizing list: Create a closed-door policy at work.

These days, most people frown upon a closed office door. In fact, disruptions have become such acceptable practice a closed door does not always deter visitors.

Nevertheless, it’s possible to recondition your coworkers to respect the closed-door. Start with a traditional “do not disturb” sign, or simply let it be known you expect one hour of uninterrupted work.

Even one hour a day—distraction free—will make a huge difference in your productivity.

Don’t be afraid to start a closed-door trend, as long as it doesn’t start to isolate you from your colleagues.

And, during this hour, ignore email, put your phone on silent, and concentrate on a single task. In law, which deals with costly, time-sensitive, billable, high-stakes cases, there are definitely times when a closed-door policy is the best one.

-WB

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