what’s the etiquette for closing your office door?

A reader writes:

I recently began a job I adore at a smallish company, and was very surprised to learn that I would be given my own office. I have only ever worked in cubicles before, and to be honest have no idea what to do with this newfound freedom, and how to conduct myself in my office without being rude or sending the wrong message.

I am a social worker, so my coworkers all tend to be talkative and very nice, but I have a hard time working with my door open. I am easily distracted, and on top of that, feel a little awkward saying hi and smiling to people every time they walk by. I feel like since I’m new and all, I should probably keep it open so I can introduce myself and chat with my new coworkers, but also very much want some privacy during the day.

I have no natural sense of when it’s okay to close the door and work in peace and when to leave it open, so any tips or etiquette about this would be really appreciated!

The biggest thing is to pay attention to what the culture of your office is in this regard, and take your cues from that. There are some offices where no one ever closes their door unless they’re in there firing someone, and there are offices where people close their door every time they take a phone call, and lots of places in between. So you want to observe how your office functions and calibrate your own door management accordingly.

That said, here are some things that are often true when it comes to closing your office door:

* You don’t need to worry about making eye contact, smiling, or saying hello every time someone walks by your open door. In most offices, it’s expected that you’ll be focusing on your work, and no one expects you to greet all passersby.

* A closed door will signal that you’re unavailable for interruptions, so keeping it closed as the default isn’t a good idea. Rather, in most offices you should close it only when you specifically need to — like when you’re having a sensitive phone conversation, or need to use speaker phone for some reason and don’t want to disturb others, or when you have a particular need for more-intense-than-usual focus. (I know that you said that you’re easily distracted and have a hard time working with the door open, but you’ve been in cubicles up until now, so I assume you’ve developed some skills for focusing — and it will be a lot easier in an office, even with an open door, than it was in a cubicle.)

* Keeping your door open as the default is often particularly good to do as a new employee. Because people don’t know you and your work ethic yet, it can be disconcerting to have a new person shutting their door significantly more than most of their coworkers do. It can make people wonder what you’re doing in there, and whether you’re out of sync with the broader office culture. So particularly for your first three or four months, I’d default to keeping it open most of the time. After that, you’ll have a better sense of what other people at roughly your same professional level do with their doors, and you can take cues from that.

{ 117 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Student

    Use your office door as a tool for getting your job done. That’s what it is. How to do that effectively varies by job duties and office culture.

    Think of it less as a social exchange, something you “should” or “shouldn’t” do. It’s a tool that your boss has given you. Figure out how best to use it, and then use it to best effect without constantly worrying what everyone around you thinks of you doing your job.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yeah, but I think it’s more nuanced than that. That could end up meaning “keep it shut at all times” since having maximum privacy/quiet might be optimal … but in most offices that would be the wrong choice.

      Reply
      1. Charlie

        Which is true, and too bad, because while the optics aren’t great, there’s really never a good time – and few really good reasons – to interrupt while someone is actually getting work done. When I’m really in the flow, popping into my office to ask me if I’m coming to happy hour is a major break in my focus, and it takes me a while to get back to where I’m really jamming.

        My personal ideal would be to establish set “office hours” for meetings and discussions, and a general ethic of “unless it’s a legitimate top-priority emergency, send an email or IM, and don’t interrupt in person,” otherwise, but that’s probably not at all realistic until we have all-introvert offices.

        Reply
        1. nofelix

          If you got into a habit of shutting your door for a few hours in the morning and then having it open for interruptions in the afternoon, I’m sure people would start to notice and delay non-urgent questions.

          Reply
    2. LQ

      I do think that it is worth considering that part of doing your job may be how you interact with those around you. How they interact with you can be an important thing. You can’t just ignore it and pretend it doesn’t matter, in nearly every job, part of that job is working with coworkers. It is actually part of the work. So you want to factor that in when considering it as a tool for getting your job done. (That said I think that if you include that factor I really like thinking of it as a tool for getting your job done.)

      Reply
  2. Anonymous Educator

    Another thing to keep in mind is that there are certainly implicit or subtle signals your door being closed can send, but you can also be explicit about it by just writing a note on your door. I’ve been in a couple of offices like this, where people will close their office doors and then write a note that says “Just a bit cold, so keeping the door closed, but feel free to knock and come on in” or “Keeping the noise out, but still available. Come on in if the door is closed!”

    Reply
    1. motherofdragons

      Yep. In our workplace, it’s the norm to keep your door open, unless you’re on a call/in a meeting. Sometimes it gets really cold, or I need to concentrate, so I like having my door closed. I have two signs that I hang on the front of my door as needed: “On a call” and “Plugging away, feel free to come in!” I’ve had people tell me they appreciate knowing which is which, so they don’t awkwardly peek into my office (part of the wall is glass) trying to figure out if I can be interrupted.

      Reply
      1. Meredith

        I work in a university department that’s pretty open and friendly, and doors are usually open. But a closed door always signals that someone is busy. Unfortunately, my office is the location for a (fairly not-busy) shared printer, so I always put a note on the door if I’m on a call or recording a lecture so that people know to pick up their docs in 30 minutes or so. It works well in my little department. I also like the note on the door that says whether someone can knock and come in.

        Reply
    2. Koko

      It’s interesting reading these comments, because a closed door doesn’t mean “unavailable” at my workplace. It just means “knock first.”

      I’m wondering if it has to do with the fact that our windows and doors are made of glass, so it doesn’t feel like you’ve shut out anything but noise and temperature when you close it. People shut their doors to regulate climate, to listen to music without disturbing others, to shut out noise from outside, to join a conference call (the culture here is very much to take all calls on speaker with the door shut), and probably a bunch of other reasons. You just knock to see whether it’s a “don’t interrupt” or “OK to interrupt” reason. They’ll either say, “Come in!” or “Can you come back in about half an hour? I’m [doing whatever] right now.”

      Reply
      1. Edith

        Obviously it works for you, but having to interrupt somebody to find out that they don’t want to be interrupted seems to defeat the purpose a bit. And it definitely wouldn’t work in an office where people are occasionally on conference calls or webinars or recording something.

        Reply
        1. Koko

          Usually if I’m on a call I just point at my phone because they can see me through the window. If I was presenting or recording something I would put a sign on my door saying “Please Do Not Interrupt.” The culture here is just that door closed doesn’t mean you aren’t available, so you add a sign to indicate that, rather than door closed meaning you’re not available, so you add a sign to indicate when you are. Just two different ways of doing things, but both work.

          Reply
      2. Honeybee

        Our windows and doors are also made of glass, so closed door also doesn’t necessarily mean unavailable here. It can signal that, but if I’m in the office even if my door is closed people still feel free to knock and see if I’m busy or if they can stop to ask me something. I can peek in and see if someone has a headset on conference calling, or sometimes I make a gesture and they point at their computer, which means “I’m in a meeting.”

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    3. Edith

      Yeah, this is standard operating procedure in my department. Closed door indicates no interruptions, so if the door is closed for another reason (space heater on, listening to music, etc.) or if you want to be more specific about why the door is closed (webinar, deadline, etc.) you put a note on the door. A couple of my coworkers have large binder clips they use to attach the note to their mailbox, which is at eye level right next to their office door.

      As a coworker I can confirm that having a note on the door when it’s closed is super helpful.

      Reply
    4. Julie

      I usually have my door open, but I keep two default signs on-hand for when it’s closed: 1. Focusing on work (please knock), and 2. Enjoying lunch (please knock).

      It’s worked fairly well for me so far. Other than lunch, my door is open about 90% of the time. When it’s closed, people know they can knock if it’s urgent, but otherwise they usually wait until I’m done whatever-it-is.

      Reply
  3. Jadelyn

    You can also put a sign on your door if you want to have it closed to just block out casual traffic but want to signal that you’re available if someone actually needs to talk to you or has a question or something. Just “please knock before entering” can signal “Yes, my door is closed on purpose, but I am in here and if you need something just knock first.” It should keep out your casual chatty coworkers while still signaling availability to those who need you.

    Reply
    1. Tangerina Warbleworth

      I have a sticker on my door that says “Tangerina is:” and below that I have a clip with a number of little signs made from printable business cards. One says “In, please knock” and then I have a few others like “In a meeting,” “Out for lunch,” whatever I need. You can play around with it a little, like on a birthday you can make one that says “30!!” or if there’s little silly time, one that says, “like, WAY out”, some some such. My current one is “sick of the election”.

      Reply
  4. Calcifer

    Why not just leave your door ajar? That slight opening will signal “Sure, you can knock or just come right in if you feel like it”, but keeping it mostly closed might help with the noise and the distraction of seeing people walk by.

    Reply
    1. Eric

      Not sure if that will work. I see an ajar door as “only bother me if it is important” or “I failed at closing the door and was too lazy to fix it”.

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      1. seejay

        Get one of those foot jam thingies to keep it from swinging closed or open so it looks intentionally propped half open then. That way it’s partially open/closed, gives some privacy and blocks out some noise, while also not being totally cut off.

        Reply
    2. Sparrow

      I do ajar as well! In our office, you only close the door if you’re having a confidential conversation, so the expectation is that it’s usually open. But I get really distracted when I can see into the hallway – every time I hear footsteps passing, I feel compelled to stop and look up. Using the door to block my view of the hallway helps a ton! It definitely doesn’t stop people from sticking their head in with a question, either – they usually knock before peering around the door rather than just barging in as they might otherwise.

      Reply
      1. Collingwood21

        I have to sit with my back to the door, so ajar is really helpful for me. If the door is fully open, I find myself turning around at the sound of any footsteps – distracting and not good for my back!

        Reply
  5. Allison

    I wish there was some kind of screen you could put on your door, or even an LED light you could use to signal whether you’re actually busy and don’t want to be disturbed, or if you’re free to talk and just trying to control noise, temperature, etc. It could be something as simple as a “traffic light” you could control with a smartphone app or switch inside your office.

    Reply
    1. Moonsaults

      I wonder if they have something like that out there though because they do have flashing lights they put on cubes that are to signal “I’m on the phone.”, I keep seeing them popping up more and more places around here.

      Reply
      1. Honeybee

        There is – you can buy little bluetooth lights that coordinate with your Skype status, if your business uses Skype.

        Reply
    2. ExceptionToTheRule

      I used a piece of chalkboard sticky paper to create something like that. My office is at the end of a noise tunnel and sometimes I close the door just because the rest of the building is noisy. I’ve got a little sticky note that I can move from “Come On In” to “Please Knock” to “Do Not Disturb”. It works better than I thought it would.

      Reply
    3. Dangerfield

      We do this! We just have little laminated red cards. If that’s stuck to the door/on top of your computer monitor, it means do not disturb. Not very high-tech, but it works.

      Reply
  6. eee

    Depending on how your office culture is, a good compromise could be having your office door mostly closed, with a sticky note saying something like “Come in!” My door opens right at the end of a hallway, so when anyone speaks in the hallway it’s really loud in my room. I’m also in an open door office culture, so I compromise with the partially closed door with a friendly note–also works for when it gets too loud and I need to concentrate, but I could definitely be disturbed.

    Reply
  7. shep

    I used to keep my door mostly closed (very slightly ajar), but added a sign that said “Please come in!” This is pretty par for the course in my office, and definitely softens the appearance of the closed door.

    That said, I still have the sign on, but I keep my door wide open now unless I’m on a phone call. And I’ve gotten better about talking on the phone with my door open (although I was SUPER-self-conscious initially), so I’ll only wander over and close it if I can tell the phone call is going to be long and/or somewhat contentious.

    No one ever chastised me for keeping my door closed (which I did when I was new), but I agree with Alison that it can send the wrong signals to your new office peers. I was worried about the impression my closed door was making, despite the friendly note, and I think it reads a little better now that people can walk by and actually see me.

    Reply
    1. Pwyll

      I was coming here to say this. I keep my door ajar (about half open) with a sign that says “Please come in”, unless I’m on the phone or meeting with someone in private.

      Reply
  8. Kore

    Piggybacking off of this, is there an etiquette for using headphones and/or letting people know you’re unavailable? I don’t work in an office, but outside of several offices, so people tend to use the hallway for chat. I use headphones and put on music when I’m trying to focus, which my manager approves of. However, it’s not really being seen as a “hey I’m busy, shoot me an email or check back later” signal like a closed office door is.

    Reply
    1. Jaydee

      That is harder because there really isn’t an etiquette for using headphones to signal unavailability. Especially in an open-plan environment, headphones can signal everything from “I like to listen to music while I work” to “Go Away! Scram!” said in your best Oscar the Grouch voice.

      It isn’t clear whether your issue is people directly interrupting you or whether it’s being distracted by people chatting with each other in your vicinity. If people are just chatting nearby, they are probably not even looking to see whether you are busy/focusing. So talk to the most frequent chatters and let them know that it gets really loud in your area and ask them politely to take their conversations into an office or another communal location. If people are interrupting you, then your best bet might be to have a sign or other signal (like one other commenter said that a colleague uses a little card holder with either a red or green card) and tell your colleagues what it means.

      Reply
    2. nonymous

      For a while I had a cubicle that opened to the chatty spot in the corridor. Very annoying! Headphones do help block out noise and social chatting – the more visually obnoxious, the better

      For a “closed door” effect, I’ve seen people put up a sign or retreat to an unused conference room. You can also “train” co-workers by saying something like “I’m working on New Teapot Ad Campaign right now, why don’t you email me and I’ll look at it when I have time this afternoon/tomorrow morning/in 15 minutes?” (if the coworker is anti-email, I rephrase the second half as “can I come find you in this afternoon/tomorrow morning/in 15 minutes?”). Also, when coworkers interrupt focused work, I make sure to say “Let me just write a quick note to myself and then I’m all yours”. The latter is mostly to limit the negative effect of interruptions as I write those kind of notes to myself all the time.

      Reply
  9. AdAgencyChick

    Nothing to add to this discussion except my obscene levels of jealousy, since my industry moved to the open-office model several years ago. *cries*

    Reply
    1. Fortitude Jones

      Right there with you with the jealousy, lol. I lost my office when I lost my job as an admissions rep five years ago. My current company only gives offices to executives, everybody else (including managers and directors) gets cubicles, so I probably won’t get another one for a loooooong time (assuming I stay with them and get promoted to AVP).

      Reply
    2. Susan C.

      Technically, the advertising industry *invented* the open plan office! Commissioned its invention, at any rate. There was a fascinating NPR piece on it, let me find a link…

      Reply
  10. Joseph

    One little method I use: If you are really busy and want to limit interruptions to only work-related talk, half-close the door. People who have work-related reasons to talk will sort of peek through the opening, knock and ask if it’s a good time to discuss [work item]. People who are just looking to chat about the ballgame see the partly closed door, figure you’re busy and leave you alone.

    Reply
    1. cake batter

      Agree – this is my method also. Filters out random passersby while letting folks know you’re around and semi-available.

      Reply
      1. HRLeigh

        +1 to Joseph.

        I use this one and it works well…It’s amazing how much you can communicate with door placement.

        Reply
  11. Libretta

    One person in my office has a little clear plastic card holder on the door. She either puts a red card or a green card in it to indicate when you can come in or not. We have serious temperature and noise issues in our office so having it closed is totally normal, and if I ever get an office I may use this system.

    Reply
  12. BRR

    A lot of what others said. Maybe sometimes keep it partially open/closed. Regardless of how long you’ve been there, I would try to keep it open. It shouldn’t matter (and I would love to have an office with the door closed all the time) but in many offices it does matter. I’m also easily distracted and maybe rearranging your furniture is an option. I could not function if I faced the door and saw people constantly walking by.

    Reply
    1. cake batter

      Interesting – I couldn’t function if my back faced the door. I startle easily, and I’d feel like people were constantly sneaking up on me!

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      1. LawBee

        One of my coworkers is healing from a sprained foot. She shuffles down the hall to the bathroom next to my office, and it freaks me out every time until I remember – not a serial killer, just Lurlene.

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      2. nonymous

        maybe try a little mirror next to your monitor? You can be aware of who’s walking by without engaging in the eye contact that encourages chatting.

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      3. Charlotte, not NC

        This is why I hate being in a cubicle. There is no way to rearrange the space that completely avoids blind spots. I’m a military brat–I grew up being taught never to put my back to a room. It makes me uneasy.

        Reply
  13. Elizabeth West

    <blockquote…or need to use speaker phone for some reason and don’t want to disturb others…

    UGH!!!
    There is a manager here who has these very loud conversations on speakerphone with his door open. His office is near me and it drives me batty. He’s not in my group and I don’t feel comfortable saying anything but it’s super annoying.

    Reply
      1. Julie

        I am guilty of the “reviewing voicemail on speakerphone” thing. For me, it’s mostly because it’s easier to type the notes of what was said if I have both hands free, and it’s more comfortable not to have my head cocked into my shoulder.

        That said, there’s not usually too many people who can hear what’s going in my office most of the time, so I don’t think I’m disturbing anyone. (I hope!)

        Reply
    1. Clever Name

      My old boss did this. My workspace was in a common area right outside his office, so I heard everything both sides of the conversation said. It was annoying and distracting. This boss was just a clueless person in general, and I knew he wouldn’t take it well if I said anything, so I just used headphones.

      Reply
    2. Witty Nickname

      We have someone who does that in the office that shares a wall with my cubicle. His speaker phone is really loud, and the wall doesn’t do anything to muffle the noise. There’s also someone in a cubicle on the row next to mine that has a loud baritone speaking voice. My favorite is when I get him in stereo because he’s on a call with speaker phone guy.

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    3. nonymous

      My supervisor has an office between speakerphone-using hard-of-hearing staff. When they’re on a call it’s hard to hear yourself think! We escape to a conference room instead of using his office for our meetings.

      Reply
  14. Zahra

    If your computer faces the door and just seeing someone go by distracts you, is it possible for you to move your computer so you’re facing the wall of your office? Like 90 degrees from the door wall to desk angle.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      A lot of my coworkers have their desks facing the wall perpendicular to the door wall. you can see that they’re “home” but they aren’t bothered by people passing by. I have the opposite problem of not liking to be startled so I turned my desk to face the door.

      Reply
  15. Doorclosed

    I work in a company where the norm is keeping the office door closed at all times for productivity (our company is mostly software development. In this setting it doesn’t signal that someone can’t be interrupted, so folks just knock and ask if it is a good time.

    Reply
    1. Koko

      I’m surprised we seem to be the only two posting here who work for places like that. I wonder what all the factors are that go into why places are one way or another. I think our doors and walls being made out of glass plays a big role because you don’t become less visible when you close your door. It also probably helps that about 50% of the staff are in private offices along long hallways, and the rest are distributed throughout those halls at single or double cubes, so there’s no office socializing while at your desk that the staff with offices are cutting themselves off from if they shut their door. Casual socializing happens in the kitchen and break room, or maybe when you bump into someone at the printers, not at anyone’s desks.

      Reply
  16. Cautionary tail

    In my work culture the door always stays open. This is to limit the appearance of any [fill in the blank] misconduct. There is a zero tolerance policy with no apparent due-process so people do not want to be in a situation where they can be accused of anything.

    Reply
    1. irritable vowel

      I have read that lots of male faculty members do this, to preclude the possibility that they will be accused of an impropriety with a female student behind closed doors.

      Reply
  17. Lora

    I always left the door open for about half the day, to signal I was available for interruptions and questions. The other half, door shut = don’t bug me unless there is blood, fire, or sirens.

    I really really wish I could have the grad school concept of Office Hours. Like, work from home if you don’t have to be in a meeting or the lab, except for a few hours here and there during the week when you are available for interacting with colleagues about whatever random questions or brainstorming or whatever. I hate this whole open office thing, it drives me bonkers.

    Reply
    1. Honeybee

      That wouldn’t work in my office, because the ‘random questions’ don’t necessarily follow a defined pattern of time. Like yesterday my lead came by my office to ask me a question about something that needed to go out that very day. If I were working from home she simply would’ve IM’d me – same effect.

      Reply
  18. Sparkly Librarian

    At my last job it was all open-plan. Could. Not. Concentrate. Now, I love having an office (that I share with another coworker, but which is separate from the other staff area and other offices). Plenty of people in equivalent positions at other locations in my system are not so lucky and may have very little working privacy. It’s not perfect, though. Because of the location next to a public area, our office door remains closed and locked by default during open hours. The sign says Staff Only. It’s complicated by the fact that within the office and in a wiring closet one can only access through the office are items that other staff may need from time to time.

    I have no problem with the following: 1) library staff knocking and waiting to have the door opened by one of us inside – it takes 10-15 seconds max 2) staff using their key to let themselves in when they know we are not inside, usually to leave a package or phone message slip at a desk or to grab supplies/check whether something in the wiring closet is working. I find the following frustrating, however: 1) staff using their key to let themselves in either without knocking or immediately after knocking (without waiting to see if anyone answers) 2) any member of the public without an appointment knocking or rattling the door handle. Other staff with offices are within the general staff area, so they can assume that when someone knocks at their office door it is another employee or authorized person. One would only use a key to access their offices if they are absent and something absolutely necessary is within. In our separate office, my coworker and I get a bit trapped once a patron knows we’re in there, and it can be hard to get actual off-desk work done without being interrupted by a conversation at the door.

    Reply
  19. That Would Be a Good Band Name

    My current company is open office doors at all times. Meetings that need closed doors go into the conference room. It’s not what I would prefer, but that’s how it is. My last company had different rules for different level of employees. Salaried employees couldn’t have the door closed all day due to needing to appear available for support, but could definitely close it for a couple of hours or so to get some solid uninterrupted work time in without raising any eyebrows. However, we had a few non-exempt that had office space and those doors were never to be closed unless they weren’t there. Not sure how/when those lines were drawn, but that’s how it worked. This is just one of those things that depends so heavily on office culture.

    Reply
  20. JP

    I work at a library and my office is in a public area with lots of foot traffic right outside my door, so I keep my door closed. I only wish I could keep it open!

    Reply
    1. DragoCucina

      I feel your pain. At our old and new library buildings my office had/has windows facing into the public area. I have to keep them completely covered or I get constant knocking on the windows. I’d love to peek out, but sure enough there will be someone who runs over.

      Reply
    2. irritable vowel

      I used to work at a completely dysfunctional small college that did not value the library or librarians at all; our desks were basically the public service desks – no private space at all. We would constantly be coming back from meetings and finding students using our desks/computers, because why not?

      Reply
  21. Jane

    I had a good relationship with my manager, and I would close his door when he was having loud / conference call meetings in his office.

    Reply
  22. Jillian

    My office is right outside our break room, so break times/lunch times tends to get a bit noisy. Even during those times, I will usually have my door open at least ajar so people know I am there and that they can come in. I will completely close it when I am on a call or when I take my lunch break in my office, but that’s really it.

    Reply
  23. Another HRPro

    This really does very by company, so AAM’s advice to observe how others work is right on. My organization tends to have the door open at all times unless you need it closed due to a confidential meeting or you are on a call with speaker phone. Keeping the door open really does help with approach-ability, so I would encourage the OP to leave their door open as much as possible.

    Reply
  24. AnitaJ

    I may be in the minority, but I think you should keep your door open as much as possible. I don’t know how long you’ve been at this job, but when starting a new position, I think creating strong work relationships is as important as the work you do. Taking the time to get to know your coworkers, learning from them, and generally showing that you’re eager to acclimate to the new company is (in my opinion) on par with meeting your deadlines and completing projects correctly. I empathize with your inability to focus (I’ve always had desks in open areas, and I’ve had some very chatty neighbors!), but at least for the first six months, I’d make a real good-faith effort to seem as approachable and as friendly as you can. And I definitely agree with Allison–no need to interact with every single person who walks by. That’s far too much of your time eaten up by pleasantries.

    Reply
  25. Sunshine

    Also, I’ve found that your ears get “used to” a certain level or type of noise once you give it some time. Our office is “all doors open unless you have good reason to close it”… and we tend to move around the folks on the floor a lot. Every time we move people, it takes a bit for the noise outside to get less distracting. Something about hearing a new voice that wasn’t there yesterday catches my attention for a while, but usually I can tune out after a few days.

    Definitely follow the signals of your office, but if you have to keep it open, don’t fret too much. You’ll adjust.

    Reply
  26. Which Way Do I Go?

    I will soon be moving to a new office where there will be two doors into the office – neither entrance directly from a hallway. In both cases, visitors will need to walk through someone else’s office to get to mine. I haven’t quite figured out which will be best to use for a main entry or which door(s) to leave open when I’m there, but the comments on this thread bring interesting perspectives to consider.

    Reply
  27. DragoCucina

    The previous ED only closed her door when someone was in trouble and ED was yelling at her. When we saw the door closed we quickly did a head count. When I became ED I started closing the door often so I could concentrate. I also prefer it closed when I have phone conversations. It had the benefit of breaking the cycle of expecting a tirade whenever the door is closed. I often keep the door ajar. It’s open and I’m available, but it discourages the random chattiness that can suck up a morning.

    Reply
    1. LQ

      I think the other side of this is if you go into the office and your boss only ever closes the door for a bad conversation that’s not good for giving any kind of feedback. So closing it and having positive conversations is good too. You don’t want to train people to flinch when the door is closed.

      Reply
      1. DragoCucina

        I rarely call people into my office (I like to go to them), so when I do I try to follow-up with, ‘You’re not in trouble.’ They don’t need to sweat.

        Reply
  28. jstarr

    Yeah, my boss has had her normally open door closed a lot lately and we’re all a bit on edge. It doesn’t help that she’s got the only door in the company!

    Reply
    1. NW Mossy

      I used to work in an office where office doors where closed only if someone was getting chewed out or fired. It was a pretty dysfunctional place, and more than a decade later I still flinch if I hear an office door close when I’m working.

      Reply
  29. MissDisplaced

    I wouldn’t close it by default, and would generally leave open unless:
    1. You have a phone call and you tend to be loud (that’s me).
    2. You have private meetings, either for privacy or loudness issues.
    3. You need quiet so you can focus on something (and then I leave it open just a crack so people could still poke in).

    Also always made sure I would open it back up after said call/meetings or finishing as that was the norm at my work. However, I’ve noticed with an influx of new people at my work, they close their doors much more.

    Reply
  30. JacqOfAllTrades

    The office doors at my workplace all open to the exterior of the building (odd, I know), so the state of the door is usually weather dependent. We use our blinds to indicate availability, but still knock if the door is closed and the blinds are open. I love these fall days when everyone’s door is open and it’s easier to know whether you’re interrupting someone.

    Reply
    1. Cautionary tail

      Sounds like a converted motel. Much better than our interior designer’s decision many years ago that to be fair to people whose office did not get any natural daylight they would darken all the windows, close the blinds (sandwiched between the panes of glass) and put high cubicle partions in front of the windows to block any light that dared try to pass the other two barriers. People in that office would spend the whole day just trying to stay awake.

      Reply
  31. JB (not in Houston)

    “A closed door will signal that you’re unavailable for interruptions.”

    I would say it usually means this, in most offices. Where I work, our jobs involve a lot of concentration on often-tedious research, and those of us who are easily distracted by any conversation in the hall or people walking by tend to keep our doors closed most of the time. Everyone knows they can knock and come in at any time. For people who can handle noise and other distractions, they tend to keep their doors open. So if *they* close their doors, then yes, it usually means they don’t want to be interrupted. You have one end of a hallway with almost all the doors closed almost all the time, and another end with almost all the doors open almost all the time.

    So sometimes, in offices, there isn’t one norm. I agree with Alison that you should spend some time seeing what other people at your professional level do, but there be more than one way that’s accepted around there.

    Reply
  32. BadPlanning

    In older parts of our building, the office doors have a sign holder at eye level and some still have a flippable slide-in sign that says “Do no disturb” on one side and “Knock and enter” on the other.

    Reply
  33. beardtongue

    You don’t need to worry about making eye contact, smiling, or saying hello every time someone walks by your open door. In most offices, it’s expected that you’ll be focusing on your work, and no one expects you to greet all passersby.

    …or you might have a boss like mine that refused to promote a perfectly qualified employee because she didn’t say hi every time she walked by the boss’s door…

    Reply
  34. Agile Phalanges

    At my last job (no doors in my current job), there was a middle ground that a lot of people, including both managers I had there, would sometimes use–door slightly ajar. It was significantly quieter for them than having it fully open, but signaled “I’m concentrating, but available if you need me” rather than “completely unavailable” like a closed door would. We would knock on the door, be given the signal to come in, and be able to still speak with the manager whenever we needed, but they had the quiet they needed, and weren’t disturbed for minor questions that could wait. The key to this, as with a closed door, is not to do it all the time, and to re-open it when you’re through the immediate need to have it “closed.”

    Reply
  35. Rocholicho

    The OP said that she was a social worker. In that field, we have to be mindful of HIPPA violations. I would expect that means the door is closed for any phone conversation or even non-formal meetings. I also turn my computer so it is not facing the doorway so that no one could walk by and see what you are working on. I would expect that the culture may be more closed-door due to these privacy concerns.
    Also, if you have a good manager, you may be able to ask them specifically about the culture and expectation in the department.

    Reply
  36. ST

    When I was transferred into a new department a few years ago I was made aware that the department head had a “keep your office door open” policy. A good 50%+ of my job involved editing audio and video projects. After about three months (three months in which I edited at a volume about 20% louder than I normally would) he asked me to start closing my door.

    Passive-aggressive FTW. :)

    I really needed to have it closed because a cube farm of really loud talkative folks sat just outside of my office door, and I’m easily distracted.

    My current office opens into a public space, so that door stays closed and locked always.
    Staff can let themselves in if they have a key, they knock, and they wait for my response.

    Reply
  37. Nissar Ahamed

    I have noticed that colleagues don’t get offended if you are getting your work done. Many times, I have gone into a small office and closed the door whenever I have had a client call or had to work on major presentation. Other coworkers have done the same. People are usually understanding if they know you are doing your work.

    If one is closing the door to watch YouTube videos or sleep – then that’s a different story :). Ofcourse colleagues would be offended.

    Reply
  38. valereee

    I had a coworker who was very sensitive to noise distractions. The office culture was very much one of doors always open. She used to set her door to not-quite-shut when she needed to block out the noise, but hang a post-it on the door saying, “Door is open.” Everyone understood.

    Reply
  39. TamiToo

    I might have to try the sticky note option. I have closed my door and people just walk in, which I find incredibly rude. I closed my door because I am working on something and I am trying to get something done. When I lock my door, so they can’t just walk in, they literally press their faces to the window and knock and try to open the door. If a locked door doesn’t send a signal, I don’t know what does. The still beckon for me to open the door. I have to get up and tell them that I am busy and working on something, while they explain it will only take a minute. I resorted to covering the window with paper so they can’t even make eye contact or see me. They still try to open the door! Unbelievable! Maybe a sticky note or Red/Green sign might work.

    Reply
    1. Susan C.

      Oh my gods, I bet your coworkers are also the same people who demand to be let into a store one minute before closing. I wouldn’t put too much hope in their ability to read signs, either – or internalize that they actually apply to them, too. Heartfelt sympathies, Tami!

      Reply
    2. irritable vowel

      Yeah, wherever you go there are going to be people who just can’t read social cues or have no sense of personal space boundaries. I have several coworkers who will come into my office, come around the side of my desk so they are standing right next to me (and viewing my computer screen) and pick up my pen so they can write notes on their little printed-out e-mail that they want to discuss with me instead of just FORWARDING IT TO ME. Aaaghh!

      Reply
  40. Rusty Shackelford

    My building is all private offices with doors that are partially glass. When I started here, the default was to leave them open, and a closed door meant “do not disturb.” But we’ve had an influx of noisier people, including my next door neighbor who uses her speakerphone with her door open and has loud conversations with the person in the office across the hall while they’re both sitting in their offices, and the people down the hall who play their radios so loudly that I can hear them from my office at the opposite end of the building, and the people who need to congregate outside my office to talk even though it’s nowhere near their offices, so my default is to leave it closed. Others have taken this up as well. People knock when they need to come in, and no one seems to have an issue with it. And if they did, they’d get a long angry tirade much like this one.

    Reply
  41. Be the Change

    I usually have my door open so if it’s closed, there’s a reason and people get that. At 4:15 on some days, the reason is I’m changing into workout clothes. One of my team members who is a *tiny* bit ditzy forgot that door closed = knock. Fortunately my back was to the door or she would have gotten quite the eyefull. I lock it now on crossfit days.

    Reply
  42. SJ

    I pretty much always had to keep my office door open at my old job, and I was located on the main floor right across from the entrance to the building, so I had foot traffic and people dropping in to chat all day. There were maybe 3 times in 3 years when I was so swamped with last-minute work that I closed my door. Of course, people were so used to me being available all the time that they just walked in anyway without even knocking, and of course everything they needed to chat about wasn’t important. I remember being so irritated and stressed (compounded by the irritation) — I so rarely closed my door that I thought it would be obvious that I didn’t want to be disturbed. Notes on the door were never a thing at my workplace, so it didn’t even occur to me to put one up! I should have.

    Reply
  43. Beer Thirty

    I shut my door because it’s really hard to fake being busy all day. Also, I don’t really want to talk to anyone most of the time.

    Reply
  44. Vicki

    At the jobs where I have had an office with a door, I set my default to “ajar”. The door was never wide open. The door was closed when I was busy. Other times, it was 6 or 8 inches “ajar”.

    That worked pretty well.

    Reply
  45. Dolores

    I’m quite surprised that so many workplaces have an open door policy. There’s so much research about open-plan offices being a lot less productive. I work in a cubicle, which I hate, but the worst thing is the noise bleed from people who have actual offices nearby, but leave their doors open. They then proceed to have telephone yellversations or loud meetings with students in full earshot of the poor cubicle dwellers. If I had my own office, my door would be closed. It would be polite to the people in cubicles and much more productive for me, and I’m already so approachable and friendly and chatty that I don’t think I need to be even more so.

    Reply
  46. Sumyrda

    You can also leave your door open just a bit (about a span) . It will shield you from most passer-by comments but people who want to know what you’re doing or actually have a question can look in and see if you are busy on the phone or available for them without having to knock which is actually the important bit about open doors in many offices.

    Reply
  47. a big fish in a small pond

    I know I’m late to this post, but AAM wrote, “You don’t need to worry about making eye contact, smiling, or saying hello every time someone walks by your open door. In most offices, it’s expected that you’ll be focusing on your work, and no one expects you to greet all passersby.”

    This is so good to have this confirmation, as I have always felt insecure about this and felt compelled to at least smile at everyone going by. But here’s the thing: my business is open to customers, so a lot of the foot traffic that goes by my door (and that I feel obligated to acknowledge) are customers. Does this advice apply to customers too? We have great customers, but the constant hello’s is so distracting that I’ve started working off hours to get my “real work” done.

    Reply

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