Hurricane Forces Outside Your Door? Why Managers Should Embrace A Closed-Door Policy

Authorities in Florida and South Carolina are requiring the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people today as Hurricane Matthew marches toward the U.S.

Yesterday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the storm. A state of emergency allows Haley to gather 1,800 members of the National Guard to help clear traffic lanes and direct highway traffic during the evacuation—not an overreaction considering just one year ago, heavy storms in South Carolina killed 17 people.

“The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded,” reports Reuters of the National Hurricane Center.

“There is a danger of life-threatening inundation.”

Tropical storm conditions are expected to reach parts of the Florida coast by early Thursday after intensifying to hurricane conditions, warns the National Hurricane Center. Hurricane Matthew had already sustained winds of 120 mph, which comprises a Category 3 hurricane, and is likely to strengthen soon.

“People have less than 24 hours to prepare,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned, reports USA Today. “Having a plan could be the difference between life and death.”

And although it’s hardly a life or death situation, law firm associates often feel flooded with deadlines and requests.

Sometimes—to avoid a storm of distractions at work—it is best to close up shop, board up your windows, and simply buckle down in your office.

For years, strategists and innovators touted the success of an open-door policy, claiming it makes management more accessible or employees more collaborative.

It has become routine for inner-office designs to be laid out in an open-plan scheme.

And while a culture of openness and accessibility—especially in the field of law, where its rigid hierarchical structure can breed favoritism—might improve productivity. There are other instances where a closed-door policy is the best 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.

Don’t get swept away by office gossip and idle chit-chat. Even one hour a day—distraction free—will make a huge difference in your productivity.

So, ignore e-mail, 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—to avoid the hurricane forces outside—is the best one.

Need help coming up with other productivity policies in your law firm? Visit The Center for Competitive Management’s website for CLEs and webinars devoted to saving your firm time, money, and management headache.

-WB

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