In it’s early years, as the company was experiencing astronomical growth, then-Google executive Marissa Mayer started executing a technique she picked up while teaching computer science at Stanford.
At 4 p.m., for 90 minutes each day, Mayer held office hours.
Employees could put their name on a board posted outside her office to reserve a chunk of this time.
“Many of our most technologically interesting products have shown up during office hours,” Mayer, now President and CEO of Yahoo, said in 2006.
The idea for Google News, for example, was first discussed in one of these sessions. Mayer was reportedly able to fit in 15 meetings per day averaging seven minutes per person.
Many other successful managers and entrepreneurs have celebrated the benefits of holding open office hour sessions, a concept that has roots in academia.
The Office Hours Pioneers
Jason Fried cofounder and CEO of Basecamp, announced in 2009 that he would be holding open office hours.
“You can call and ask product questions, pre-sales questions, suggest feature requests, lodge complaints, offer praise, share ideas, discuss recent blog posts, or talk about good or bad experiences using our products,” Fried wrote on his blog. “Anything that’s on your mind is fair game. I’m here to listen, share, and be available to help in any way I can.”
The concept caught the attention of Bill Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company magazine.
“[We’re the professors now — busy, distracted, unapproachable — and it’s our colleagues, customers, and all sorts of other constituents who are eager for our time and guidance.”So maybe it’s time to transport that familiar ritual from the Ivory Tower to the halls of business”.”
Scott Kirsner, the “Innovation Economy” columnist at the Boston Globe, wrote of the growing amount of leaders in New England’s venture capital community who had begun holding office hours. Kirsner even experimented with trying office hours himself.
Kirsner wrote that he hoped the idea would catch on with people “much more important than I” and help make the regions innovation community feel more supportive of people starting out.
Office hours could help curb distraction and impromptu interruptions by batching similar conversations into one section of time, rather than having them interrupt the flow of the day. In his 1983 management book “High Output Management,” former Intel CEO Andrew S. Grove’s wrote that responding to individual interruptions is one of the least effective ways for a manger to spend time.
Holding office hours, then, could help keep leaders on task during other parts of their day.
How to Hold Office Hours
There’s no universal answer for when and how long office hours should be. The times and details for any system depend on the company, manager, customers — a number of things.
Mayer held office hours for 90 minutes every day, from 4 p.m. to 5:30. That’s 7.5 hours per week, and essentially a full working day. That may seem like too much for your organization. But it’s easy to scale back and operate fewer hours.
When Fried announced his office hours, he started with Tuesday and Thursdays from 3-5 p.m. That makes for only a four hour commitment per week.
Alternatively, like building a great business, you can start small, validate, and scale up from there. Try one session per week at first.
Office hours don’t always have to be held in your office. Since Basecamp is a remote company, Fried took calls over the phone.
See if it the process catches on and measure if you find it effective. Like Grove suggests, make sure you’re using this time to clear up room for more important activities later on.
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