Hello again, Law Babe. One of the (million) things I never quite understood as a young associate was the etiquette of a closed office door. Should I keep my door open? Shut it? What about when someone else’s office door is closed? Knock? Come back later? Let’s try to break it all down.
When deciding whether to keep your door open or closed, you should always pay attention to the culture of your firm and take your cues from your colleagues. At some firms, no one closes their door unless they’re in there having a serious HR conversation, while at others, doors stay closed all the time. Of course, most firms are somewhere in between. You should generally observe your colleagues and manage your door accordingly.
That said, here are some thoughts about closed doors:
1. A closed door implies a need for privacy. It signals that you’re unavailable for interruptions, so keeping your door closed shouldn’t be your default. In most settings, you should close your office door only when you specifically need to — like when you’re having a sensitive conversation, are under a tight deadline, or are on your speaker phone.
2. Close the door when you’re conducting a phone conversation that you expect to last longer than a few moments. And for the love of all things holy, please close your door if you’re on speaker phone (even if for 30 seconds). Nothing will annoy your colleagues faster than having to listen to all sides of your conference call.
3. If you’re new to the firm, err on keeping an open door policy. When you’re new, your colleagues don’t know you and your work ethic yet. It can be disconcerting to watch a new colleague shut his or her door significantly more than most of their coworkers do. It can make people wonder what you’re doing in there and can signal that you’re out of sync with the firm’s broader culture. It also sends a stand offish vibe, and you don’t want to create that initial impression. So especially during your first few months, I’d default to keeping your door open the vast majority of the time. After that, you’ll have a better sense of what associates at your professional level do with their doors, and you can take cues from them.
4. If you need to speak with a colleague whose door is closed, tread lightly. This next piece of advice goes particularly when you’re about to knock on a partner’s door. If you absolutely need to speak to a partner who has his or her door closed, and you just can’t wait, there a few things you can do to make this less awkward. First, listen at the door to make sure he or she isn’t on the phone or that there isn’t another person in the office. If you hear any indication that the person is otherwise engaged with someone, just come back later unless you have a true emergency (and I can think of very few true emergencies). If you don’t hear any evidence of a conversation, knock lightly and wait for the person to invite you to open the door. Do not be one of those people who knocks and barges right in. The last thing you want is to walk in on something awkward! Don’t put yourself in that position. Plus, manners.
What do you think? How do you feel about closed office doors? Have you ever accidentally walked in on someone doing something awkward in the office?!
Stay Smart and Sexy, Law Babe!