Office Hours: Top Tips on How to Create an Effective Open Door Policy for Your Remote Team

Office hours

According to a report given by Queens University, 75% of employers rate teamwork and collaboration to be very important.

Despite this, reports by Globe and Mail and the Harvard Business Review indicate that 20-44% of employees experience workplace communication and collaboration challenges. And if you’re operating remotely, well, these challenges just became harder to overcome. There is a gap between want and reality.

In this Process Street article, we consider how using office hours can close this gap by supporting the effective implementation of an open door policy for your remote team.

Office hours are times in the week managers set aside to answer questions, address issues, and discuss topics with employees. This effectively implements an open door policy, to establish aspirational communication and collaboration goals. An open door policy is a culture that supports complete workplace transparency, communication, and productivity by establishing strong communication channels between employees and their managers.

Today you’ll find out exactly how office hours and an open door policy complement each other – plus top tips on managing your remote open door policy.

Click on the relevant subheader below, or scroll down to find out all.

Let’s get straight to it!

What do we mean by office hours?

Office hours are times in the day – or week – leaders set aside for listening, sharing, and helping employees with their questions, queries, or concerns.

Note: The term also refers to the hours during the day when office workers are usually at work, i.e. the 9-5 grind. In this article, we’ll look at the term as per the definition given above.

The top challenges with a remote open door policy

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Scott Kirsner, the Innovation Economy columnist, goes as far as to state that open office hours isn’t a simple idea, but an initiative belonging to a wider movement promoting an open door policy at work.

As beautiful as the open door policy seems in theory, the Globe and Mail and the Harvard Business Review report some worrying statistics, bringing us into a crashing reality.

  • 44% of employees stated they don’t feel free to speak their minds to their boss (this is a communication issue).
  • 42% of employees admitted to speaking up but withheld information if they felt they had nothing to gain or something to lose from sharing (this is a collaboration issue).
  • 20% of employees stated that fear of the consequences kept them addressing ordinary company problems (this is a collaboration issue).

Each one of these concerns boils down to significant communication and collaboration problems, preventing a true open door policy from being established, despite efforts and theory ideals.

These issues aren’t to do with the open door policy per-say, but poor management in practice. Furthermore, they’re problems exacerbated by remote work.

Why are we focusing on remote work in this article?

Because, with technological and digital progression, remote work is becoming common-place.

Today, we have companies operating remotely 100% of the time (take Process Street as a prime example). In the U.S. remote work has risen by 159%, from 2005-2018. At the beginning of 2020, the number of remote workers was 4.7 million – in light of COVID-19, this statistic has substantially increased.

These trends come as remote work brings many team-wide benefits, such as lowered business expenses, increased productivity, and a reduced carbon footprint. But this trending working style isn’t without its challenges.

How remote work makes managing open door policy more difficult

According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work Report (2020), top remote work challenges include communication and collaboration issues. These issues act to hinder the already present challenges that come from using an open door policy.

To summarize, if you’re trying to establish an open door policy for your remote workforce, you need to address the following:

  • Remote open door policy challenge #1: Ineffective implementation of an open door policy – applicable to in-person work as well as remote work.
  • Remote open door policy challenge #2: Remote work exacerbates collaboration issues among colleagues, further degrading the effectiveness of an open door policy.

So, how do we address these challenges?

Remote open door policy challenges (and how to solve them)

In the next section of this article, you’ll learn how to effectively implement a remote open door policy using remote open office hours.

Challenge #1: Ineffective implementation

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The challenge: Ineffective implementation of an open door policy – applicable to in-person work as well as remote work.

The solution: Open office hours that have been well planned and scheduled.

Step 1: Set clear office hour parameters
Sometimes an open door policy becomes a revolving door sabotaging your time management. To get through your tasks, you’ll need time for uninterrupted, deep-work. An open door policy doesn’t mean you’ll need to be constantly available, which is why it’s important to schedule office hours at a selected time to suit your schedule.

To set clear office hour parameters at Process Street, we use the tool Calendly. With this application, you can store times and days of preference and then share your Calendly link within your team. Using this link, team members can pick meeting times of preference, and all events are added to your calendar automatically. I use this Calendly link to set up 1:1 sessions with my manager Adam Henshall. During these open office slots, I have the option and free reign to chat and ask for advice.

I book all my recurring meetings Monday-Thursday and try to leave Friday open for people to book in with me if they need/want to.

We use Calendly to easily manage that booking. I put my Calendly link in my Slack profile for anyone to grab it straight away and book it on my calendar. This means Friday is different from other days as I’ll often have time to make progress on other projects, or my lower priority tasks. These office hour meetings give me the time to chat about wellbeing, potential new projects, or to have conversations with people from other teams. It breaks up my work week as well as giving some flexibility to my team members. – Adam Henshall

Step 2: Be prepared
You don’t know what issues an employee will bring to you during pre-set office hours, which is why you’ll need to prepare for all eventualities. For instance, if your office hours lead to someone raising health and safety concerns, you need to know how to handle these issues swiftly and according to best practices and policy. You’ll want your employees to feel comfortable raising these situations, and knowing you’ll provide advice for recommended action.

In my previous job working for an environmental testing laboratory, I had to schedule open office hours with my line manager following a mountaineering accident that led me to have 3 months off work. My absence had mistakenly raised concern via the company’s system, causing me stress. My line manager read up on the company’s policies regarding leave of absence, clearing up the misunderstandings I had, and resolving the system issues. This represents good practice during open office hour discussions. My manager’s actions supported an open door policy by addressing miscommunication through the provision of correct and up-to-date information.

Step 3: Pay attention
Listen more than you speak for employees to feel heard during open office hours. Make eye contact, show positive facial expressions, and an open body language to let employees know you’re engaged and interested.

Let’s take a look at Virgin as an example. Virgin is a multi-industry organization with a long-standing habit of listening to employees, to show that they’re valued. Virgin Group founder Richard Branson puts a lot of emphasis on listening to employees and implementing their ideas.

We encourage all of our companies to seek feedback from their employees and implement great ideas where possible.” – Sir Richard Branson, Listen to your employees’ ideas

Step 4: Build trust
A study by Google looked at the organization’s highest-performing teams to evaluate their effectiveness and discovered it boiled down to 1 factor – psychological safety. To create an environment that promotes feelings of safety, Google’s study states that building trust is key. Trust helps team members feel safer to speak up, take risks, and be vulnerable. As a result, these teams are less likely to fail.

Coming back to the Globe and Mail and the Harvard Business Review reports, 20% of employees stated that fear of the consequences kept them addressing ordinary company problems. Building trust and providing psychological safety will remove this common collaboration pitfall.

Use office hours to build this trust. Listen, be honest, supportive, consistent, model the behavior you seek, and assign accountability.

Step 5: Ask questions
Initial concerns may be bigger than presented with further interrogation. You don’t want to put the employee on the defensive, but have them provide more detail for you both to work towards a solution.

We know that 42% of employees will speak up, but withhold some information they feel could count against them.

To get to the bottom of employee concerns, ask questions such as:

  • What could have been done differently to affect the outcome?
  • What results are you looking for?
  • How can I help?

Get to the root cause of the employee’s problem. Does it stem from poor business processes? Is it indicative of poor relationship management or a negative company culture? Approach employee issues with the root cause in mind and the employee’s interests at heart.

Step 6: Encourage employees to speak their minds
Another roadblock to a full-functioning open door policy, as mentioned, was that employees don’t feel they can speak their minds.

Use your office hours to resolve this issue, by:

  • Making it known you want your employees to take calculated risks, and that they won’t be punished for their mistakes. For instance, Jeff McCarthy – vice president of customer success at Reflektive – stated that he’s seen first-hand the impacts of punishment. He explains that punishment creates…

“…a culture that was fearful of taking risks – more specifically, the company had trouble innovating“. – Jeff McCarthy, 4 Ways to Get Employees to Really Speak Their Mind

  • Discourage gossip during and outside office hours. Nip bad rumors in the bud to create a positive and supportive culture for employees all-round.
  • Make sure feedback is continuous – use your office hours to consistently ask for the employee’s input.

Regular feedback needs to be normalized in companies today, which is why I advocate for a culture of continuous feedback. – Kim Dawson, 4 Ways to Get Employees to Really Speak Their Mind

Step 7: Document your meetings
Any issues raised during your open office 1:1 meetings need to be resolved for your employees to feel valued and listened to.

Document your meetings to track concerns raised, the topics discussed, and the solutions are given.

At Process Street, we track our meetings via checklists. For every meeting held, we document a written transcript of what has been discussed during the meeting. These meeting notes – otherwise known as meeting minutes – are vital to convert the meeting into an action plan. Meeting minutes provide transparency and accountability.

In our Meetings Minutes Template, our Approvals feature means action plans are seamlessly sent for approval by relevant managers, supporting a quick resolution to employee concerns. Stop tasks ensure no meeting step is missed, and the office hours run smoothly and according to best practice. Our Conditional Logic feature adapts the steps for meeting documentation to suit your specific needs.

Consider using a business process management tool, like Process Street, to document your office hour meetings.

You can also use our Meeting Minutes Template, for free, to guide the preparation and finalization of your meeting minutes notes for your office hours.

Click here to access our Meeting Minutes Template today!

Document any process using Process Street to improve efficiency and productivity in all of your business operations. This will free up your time to concentrate on other tasks, such as providing more support to your employees.

Process Street has freed up my brain to work *in* my business faster and more efficiently. The result is that I now have more time to work *on* my business”Stephen J., Capterra reviews

Sign up to Process Street for free here, and get started!

Challenge #2: Remote work exacerbates collaboration

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The challenge: Remote work exacerbates collaboration issues among colleagues, further degrading the effectiveness of an open door policy.

The solution: Carefully and effectively plan your remote office hours.

Remote work can hinder communication in the workplace – i.e. relaying information across time-zones poses challenges.

Remote work also hinders workplace collaboration. Think about it, if you need information from your manager, you can’t nip across the office floor to get it.

Setting up office hours remotely can help resolve these common collaboration and communication issues – that would otherwise degrade your open door policy – allowing you to reap the benefits of remote work for your team.

In this next section, we’ll show you how to maintain good workplace communication and collaboration via setting up office hours remotely.

Step 1: Make sure you and your team have the appropriate software installed
Use an online video conferencing software like Zoom to support your remote open office hours. It’s a great way to create a virtual office space to stay securely connected with your colleagues.

Also, install online messenger applications such as Slack, for constant communication between team members across time-zones.

Step 2: Learn how to communicate asynchronously
You want your remote office hours to communicate information effectively, in a manner that minimizes confusion, error, and maximizes productivity.

Consider the following scenario. You’re on the other side of the world, in a completely different time zone to a given employee who needs your help. How do you maintain an open door policy in this instance, when communication is limited?

The answer is by asynchronous communication.

Asynchronous communication is the exchange of information or data between 2 or more people where an immediate response is not expected/available.

For example, I send a message to a colleague at 9:00 am GMT. My colleague doesn’t receive that message until 9:00 am EST (13:00 GMT). A lot of time has already been lost and I don’t want to lose any more time. So I should include all the information I want to convey to reduce back-and-forth.

Get comfortable communicating asynchronously; as for some remote employees, office hours may only be possible via this method, having discussions across time-zones via instant messenger.

Step 3: Spice up your open office meetings
Lunchtime walks, coffee chats, and dining room discussions all come to an end when you transfer to a remote work environment.

If you want to maintain an open door policy, you’ll need to find alternative ways to have discussions outside the confines of this deadline and that deadline, to create a culture supporting open communication and positive collaboration.

Consider including ice-breakers in your open office meetings. I’ve listed some entertaining ice-breakers for you to try below:

  • Just One Lie: Have the employee tell 2 truths and 1 lie. It’s your job to guess what the truth is and what the lie is. Then repeat, but this time it’s you telling the 2 truths and the employee telling the lie. This game will break down barriers for effective 1:1 communication by giving individuals a glimpse of the other’s life outside work.
  • Quotes: You and the employee should pick a quote and then explain what the quote means to them. This humanizes colleagues, helping to create a strong relationship for ongoing effective communication and collaboration.
  • Desert Island: Each participant has to state one book, one music track, and one luxury item they will take on a desert island, giving explanations on why for each. This exercise provides a snapshot of individual personalities, likes, and dislikes.

Step 4: Setup interdepartmental office hour chats
Switching to a remote setting removes daily face-to-face interactions across different teams.

Most workplace projects require a multidisciplinary approach, so if you want to maintain an open door culture, you’ll need to set up plentiful opportunities for different team members to come together and chat.

Set up open office hours for employees inside your team, but also for employees outside of your team, for effective communication and collaboration all around.

The benefits of office hours and supporting an open door policy

Making the effort to execute the above steps will reinforce an open door culture in your workplace. In doing, you’ll reap the following benefits:

  • A strong and supportive company culture is created. Managers who demonstrate high-levels of accessibility are more apt to discuss employee issues. A culture that re-assures open communication channels are attained.
  • Managers are kept in the loop with what’s happening in the department and company. A metaphorically speaking closed-door signals the unintentional message that the managers aren’t interested and disengaged with daily activities.
  • Trust and long-term relationships are built – a key component of good management that leads to greater loyalty and a commitment to excellent performance.
  • Improved workplace collaboration. According to Simpplr, workplace collaboration optimizes workflow processes, improves employee and team relationships, maximizes productivity, and increases efficiency.
  • Establishing set hours for managerial availability means important information and feedback reaches managers, who can then take that information to make the changes needed.
  • Cross-discipline collaboration is encouraged by developing strong intra-departmental communication channels. That is, anyone can contact the given manager during office hours. Employees are encouraged to come by and speak up when issues or important situations arise. These may be concerns about new software, processes, or personal issues. Adequate support can then be provided. In fast-past industries, quick access to information is key.

Transparency and over-communication: The secret to a successful open door policy

The business landscape has changed. It’s no longer acceptable for managers to come to work and shut employees out. For remote teams, an extra effort is needed to connect employees with managers and establish an effective open door policy. Doing so will improve employee wellbeing, connectivity, and relationships, for the success of your remote-team.

For more information on how to establish a strong open-door policy remotely, check out the below resources:

How do you maintain ongoing communication and collaboration for your remote team? Would you say your organization is supported by a healthy open door policy? If not, then why not? If so, are there any tips and tricks you can give not mentioned in this article? We’d love to hear from you, please comment below.

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Jane Courtnell

Hi there, I am a Junior Content Writer at Process Street. I graduated in Biology, specializing in Environmental Science at Imperial College London. During my degree, I developed an enthusiasm for writing to communicate environmental issues. I continued my studies at Imperial College's Business School, and with this, my writing progressed looking at sustainability in a business sense. When I am not writing I enjoy being in the mountains, running and rock climbing. Follow me at @JaneCourtnell.

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