I’ve recently moved into a new office. Its north-facing windows look over bushland and we’re serenaded by birds through the day. I also have a desk that I can use either sitting or standing – so much better than sitting at a desk all day. The down-side is that we (four of us) are separated from the rest of the Family Action Centre. We’re not far away but are in a building with a number of University services. One thing I’ve found interesting is the difference an open door makes.
Our office, and the other ones in the building, are open plan. There are three or four other offices in our corridor (each with quite a few staff) and they all keep their main doors closed. Our door, on the other hand, is kept open. The open door makes quite a difference. While we don’t often have people wandering into the corridor, a few times people have come in to our office asking for directions. The open door invites them in much more than a closed door. The first office in our corridor, has a glass reception window with a bell, so people are able to get assistance, but it feels a more formal process.
An open door seems to more inviting and makes it easier for people to approach us.
Some community and welfare services feel like they are a fortress. When I see a service like this, I often get the sense they don’t really trust the people who use their service and they are expecting problems. I also wonder if it can make people who come to the service feel less safe because of the apparent expectation of problem. I know services need to ensure the safety of staff but I wonder at the impact of creating a sterile, untrusting environment. It certainly doesn’t suggest to me a strengths-based approach. (At the same time I don’t want to judge services that have gone down this path. There can be good reasons they feel they have to create this type of a secure environment and they could still be doing excellent strengths-based work.)
The ex-principal at my daughter’s school had an open door policy and always seemed happy to see people. Many parents appreciated the way he would often be at the crossing outside the school at the end of the day. This meant it was easy to approach him in an informal setting and it felt like parents were welcome and valued. It helped create a really positive atmosphere. He had a similar attitude towards students. He clearly prioritised the people involved with the school and we responded to that.
I know we need to create a balance between safety, getting work done and accessibility, but if we take an approach to working with families and communities that is relationship driven, then we want to create environments that give a clear message that people are welcome and we value their presence. An open door policy is one thing that can contribute to creating this feel.
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