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 1×1 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?