Is the open door policy dead?

The open door policy is a great tool for open communication. Here we take a closer look at the open door policy in a digtial age.

January 29, 2021

Is the open door policy dead?

Successful teams are built around transparency and communication. In the past, companies promoted the open door policy as a tool for better communication. But how can you open doors in a digital age? What is the open door policy about in the modern age and how can you achieve it? 

What is the open door policy about?

The definition of an open door policy is about encouraging and allowing free communication between employees and managers. Instead of creating a rigid framework for how employees can approach management for solutions, you cultivate open communication.

Employees do not need to knock on ‘doors’ to ask questions or to give feedback. They do not need to book an appointment with an executive and wait for a week to propose a company-changing idea. They are free to reach out whenever they have questions, concerns or problems to solve. The ability to talk goes all the way. It is not just about talking to your closest supervisor. You want to have a chat with the CEO? Well, in an open door policy you can. Here at Contractbook, you can write to anyone in the company if you have a pertinent question, and we encourage everyone to share their ideas company-wide. You do not have to adhere to a hierarchy chart of communication! 

Even more important, we do not believe that such a suggestion or question should be private. Private conversations in Slack kill transparency, knowledge sharing and create silos of information. Instead, post it in the right channel and tag the relevant people. In that way, everyone can contribute. We do not think of it as having  open doors - instead, we removed the doors completely.

At its core, an open door policy promotes transparency and trust between different parties. Trust and transparency are essential for a healthy workplace. For example, Google’s research showed psychological safety and dependability to be the two most important things behind productive teams. An open door policy can improve both because it removes barriers to communication. Employees feel comfortable to talk to each other and they can depend on others to help them get through difficult situations.

When you remove the barriers to communication, you make solving problems faster and more efficient. If your organisation nails down its open door policy, it can boost productivity and happiness.

It is quite simple, really! If you have a problem, but you have to book an appointment to solve it and wait for a long time, you might just let it go or put it off. You might not even talk to the person who could actually help. Sounds frustrating, right? With open door policy, you can think about your problem and talk to the person that you have identified could help you the most. It’s the CEO? No problem!

Open door policy at work can help:

  • Facilitate discussion
  • Address problems
  • Enhance collaboration
  • Improve performance
  • Cultivate transparency

What is the open door policy at work like in the digital age?

You might be wondering if open door policy even applies to your organisation. After all, the whole name of the concept comes from a time where workplaces had physical doors to divide the management and the employees. But the workplace looks a lot different in 2020/21. We have gone through a digital transformation and remote work is now the norm for many. How do you keep your doors open when you do not necessarily even share a workspace? What is the open door policy like in the digital age?

The concept does not change whether your employees share physical space or not. The idea of transparency actually becomes more crucial at a time of remote work. When employees are not sharing the same physical space, they can feel more isolated. With an effective open door policy, you can prevent this. You can create a framework of communication and contact that brings your team closer together even if they are physically apart. Remember that open door policy is about removing those barriers of communication, not about opening actual doors!

While physical distance can lead to feeling more isolated from the group, digital tools actually offer a lot easier and efficient access to communication. Online communication methods can add to the immediacy of an open door policy. Instant messaging platforms can make resolving problems, asking for feedback and sharing information easier and faster. You do not have to worry about a closed door nor having to even get up from your desk!

How to best implement an open door policy at work

Implementing an open door policy can transform your organisation. But if you do not get it right, you can end up with issues like:

  • Over-reliance on managers to solve problems
  • Improper or inappropriate use of information
  • Perceptions of favouritism

How can you avoid these issues and what are the practical steps to take?

Establish healthy boundaries

An unruly place is not what the open door policy is about. Employees should feel they can seek out the management when they have concerns. Your team needs to know it can talk to anyone – remember that the CEO is in reach of everyone! But it does not mean you just call them while they are on a holiday with their family. Open and transparent communication has to be healthy.

Digital tools offer many practical solutions to this dilemma. For example, by setting up a Slack channel, you can add queries, tag the right people with the issue and give the team the agency to view it when it suits them. The collaborative tools also allow you to set priorities. If your problem is not that important, you can mark it low priority.

You could also use things like automated email replies. For example, set up a specific time of day for going through your emails and answering queries. Communicate this with your team through an automated reply. If an employee emails you, send them an automated message stating when you will  be checking your email and responding.

Promote critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking is actually a key part of healthy boundaries in an open door environment. You should encourage your employees to think about who is the best person to connect with when they encounter a problem. For example, does the problem involve just them or the wider team? What are the things they want help with?

Asking employees to think about these issues encourages them to do part of the problem-solving. It ensures employees do not just talk to managers they like. But instead, they need to think who are those people that can best help. 

To achieve this in an open door policy environment is to ensure everyone knows who is who. Yes, team building is key in an open door workspace because it guarantees people know each other’s skill sets. Like we have said, you do not want people to run to the manager they like but the manager or team member who can best help.

The practical steps to take involve things like:

  • Promoting updated employee portals that showcase the person’s portfolio, including using platforms like LinkedIn
  • Holding regular team meetings using video conferencing tools where each person gets to talk about the things they are working on
  • Having fun hangouts playing online games or doing other activities promoting team spirit

When employees approach the management for problems and feedback, the focus should be on the solution via dialogue. You want to engage the employee in the problem-solving. Do not just note the issue and then get back with the solution. Work towards it together with everyone that is involved with the issue.

Improve access to information

An open door policy is about breaking barriers of communication. We have talked a lot about access to people in this context and how digital tools can help. But an open door policy also benefits from access to information. 

You can promote access with tools like Contractbook. The virtual document sharing tool makes it easy to control who views what and allows team members to collaborate better. You get to control access by choosing who can edit and who can just view information, for instance.

When you combine the access to information with critical thinking and problem solving, you create a winning combination. Your team will have the right information and access to be more productive – exactly what an open door policy is about!

The bottom line of a good open door policy

An open door policy at work is a positive tool for solving problems. In the digital age, you want to ensure team members have the tools and channels to reach out. Restricting communication will only enhance isolation and frustrations. By increasing access to information, promoting critical thinking and ensuring communication is healthy through an open door policy, you boost productivity and employee wellbeing.

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