How to have an open door policy with remote workers?

At Clear Measure, I have my office in the Austin headquarters building.  We have space on the 2nd floor and the 4th floor of the building with some separation for different activities.  For instance, the kitchen and lounge are separated and sound-insulated from our open-concept work area on one floor.  My office opens to this area where the Austin-based engineers and project managers work.  I have a door convention that I keep so that people in the office know when I’m available – without having to look at my calendar.

  • Closed door – I’m not available – send me a chat or knock if urgent
  • Cracked door – I’m busy but can be interrupted briefly
  • Open door – No matter what I’m doing, walk in and talk to me, my time is flexible.

IMG_7076I try to keep my door open as much as possible.  And it works out because if I’m in a meeting, I’m usually not in my office anyway. 

When we first moved into this space, I was determined to not have an office.  I made a desk for myself in the open area, but I found myself disturbing those around me, and I was a source of traffic, so now I have an office with a round table in it that doubles as a 2-3 person conference table.  In this way, I have all of my 1x1 meetings with my direct reports without stealing a conference room.

What I haven’t found a solution for is replicating this with our remote workers.  We have Google Hangouts, and Slack, and I have both apps on my iPhone, so I’ll get a notification if anyone contacts me, but there is no visualization on their side that replicates the physical door orientation.  How can I communicate to folks not in Austin if I’m available or I can be interrupted.  What has happened in practice is that the Austin-based people see the open door and just walk in; whereas, the remote folks tend to assume I’m busy and can’t be bothered.  I have much less interaction with the remote people as a result.  This saddens me because I want to have a great relationship with everyone. 

I’m writing this post as a question because I have to believe that someone has figured out this problem.  And my hope is that by sharing I might get some comments that will help me solve the problem.  Being the CEO of a 50-person company puts me in the position of being disconnected with the very people I worked hard to recruit.  I’m looking for a way to stay connected even as my job responsibilities take me away from my desk quite a bit during the day.  Have you, dear reader, seen someone solve this problem?

Comments

Andrew Siemer said on 4.25.2016 at 10:38 PM

Write a bot. Plug it into all your chat comms tools. This way people could naturally query "I wonder if jeffrey is available" ...or similar with as many variants as possible. Can easily plug it into your Google calendar. And you can give it fixed commands so that you can globally set yourself as busy, quick interruptions ok, or free. Check out botkit for a node/slack integrations. MS just came out with a new bot sdk (???) too.

Rajiv Menon said on 4.26.2016 at 12:11 AM

Have you tried http://www.sococo.com ?

Scott Wilson said on 4.26.2016 at 1:08 AM

Piggy-backing on Andy's idea... What about a raspberry pi that monitors your door and updates a slack bot that users can query? Also useful for Austinites that are on a different floor or have no line-of-sight of your office. The partially-open state would be the only trick to build. Open/closed could be monitored with those mag sensors they use on home security systems. Nice part is you wouldn't need to change your routine.

Daniel Marbach said on 4.26.2016 at 3:43 AM

Zoom.us works quite well. You can create a static meeting url like clearmeasure.zoom.us/jeremyoffice and then people can hop in and out.

Dan F said on 4.26.2016 at 2:17 PM

I like the mag sensor idea. That'd be rockin. But... what about a good old fashioned webcam, pointed at the door?

* Door open, ping away

* Door cracked, ping quietly

* Door closed, DND

* Can't see the door, it is night time, Jeffery is not in.

Claudio Lassala said on 4.29.2016 at 7:01 PM

Hey, Jeff! Long time no see.

You reminded me of a couple years ago where I just had to implement a "closed" door rule, because some guys on the team just couldn't use good sense... I'd barely walk into my office and two or three guys would already line up to ask me things. What bugged me is that they'd see me helping somebody else, but they'd still stand there by the door chitchatting, waiting until I was done.

Many times, they'd wait 10, 20 minutes there, only to ask me something, which I'd search the answer on Google and paste it on Skype for them. In other words, they could have easily found the answer themselves much faster.

While I *really* like helping folks out, that kind of attitude was a real bummer for me, so I had to put the door rule in place.

Regarding remote workers, many times we've basically used Skype status to indicate whether we could be interrupted or not.

I guess it all depends on the people we work with to make these things work well. :)

Claudio

Kristin Moore said on 5.03.2016 at 4:54 PM

As a longtime remote worker and usually the ONLY member of QA, I was often in troubleshooting mode. Like you, I have multiple modes of availability. In the beginning of the job, I "train" my coworkers to reach out and contact me for assistance after troubleshooting the issue by themselves for no longer then fifteen minutes. We used Cisco Web Ex messenger and web conferencing application. It allowed the user to manually type in an availability status or select a canned status'. If you were in a meeting generated in Outlook, you're status would be auto displayed after the meeting began. We worked to create a comms / status workflow because it gave us vitual workers an insight into our coworkers availability. But we still had to discipline ourselves to use it accurately. Without Web Ex we probably wouldn't have the insight or the tool to communicate our availability. It really helped a lot.n